Gun control advocates urge Utah governor to veto bill funding firearms training for teachers

  • Canadian Press

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gun violence prevention advocates who gathered Monday at the Utah State Capitol called on Gov. Spencer Cox to veto legislation that they said could place children in harm’s way by training more teachers to carry firearms on campus.

The bill funding tactical training for Utah educators who want to defend their classrooms with guns received final legislative approval last week when the Republican−controlled House voted along party lines to send it to the governor’s desk.

Cox, a Republican, has not stated directly whether he will sign the bill, but he told reporters on Friday that he is “very worried about school safety” and supports arming and training school staff so they can “respond very quickly if the worst does happen.”

Under the measure, teachers who hold a valid concealed carry permit can participate for free in an annual program training them to defend their classrooms against active threats and to safely store, carry, load and unload firearms in a school setting.

The program would cost the Department of Public Safety about $100,000 annually, according to the bill, and begin May 1 if signed into law. County sheriffs would appoint instructors to lead the course, which participating teachers would be expected to retake each year.

Some Utah educators, including retired public school teacher Stan Holmes, worry the half−day training would not be enough to prepare teachers to respond properly in an emergency, which could lead to student injuries. The U.S. Army veteran said he has taken a tactical training course offered by the state, which he referred to Monday as “a joke.”

“I left unconvinced that all graduates could handle themselves in a crisis situation,” he said. “Parents of children in Utah schools have no reason to trust that the so−called educator−protector program trainings would be any better.”

The program’s purpose, as stated in the bill, is to “incentivize” teachers to responsibly carry guns on school grounds. It builds upon a state law enacted last year that waived concealed carry permit fees for teachers as another incentive to bring guns into their classrooms.

Rep. Tim Jimenez, a Tooele Republican and the bill’s primary sponsor, characterized it as a “strictly defensive” measure that he said would benefit teachers who already own firearms but cannot afford tactical training.

Utah is one of 16 states that allow school employees to carry guns in K−12 schools. State law currently lets people carry firearms on public school property if they have permission from school administrators or hold a concealed firearm permit, which requires a criminal background check and completion of a firearms familiarity course.

The bill doesn’t prevent a teacher with a permit who is not involved in the program from carrying a gun on school grounds. But those who participate will be shielded from civil liability if they use the gun at school while “acting in good faith” and without gross negligence, according to the bill. School districts also cannot be held liable if a participating teacher fires their weapon.

“What we’re looking at here isn’t having teachers running around the hallways trying to act like police officers,” Jimenez said. “What we’re going to be training them to do specifically is how to defend their classroom, gym or whatever room they happen to be in with the students.”

Other teachers, such as Brian Peterson of Lake Ridge Elementary School in Magna, have applauded the bill for empowering them with a way to protect students and themselves.

“We have a lot of teachers who do carry, and the training is invaluable,” the sixth grade teacher said. “Knowing how to defend your classroom, whether it’s with a weapon or improvised weapon, is what teachers need.”

But for Nia Maile, a 23−year−old from West Valley City whose brothers were killed in a 2022 shooting outside Hunter High School, the possibility of more guns in Utah classrooms is a terrifying thought. She worries the bill might give a troubled kid, like the 14−year−old who shot her brothers, easier access to a firearm.

“We do not need more guns in schools,” Maile said through tears. “We need to eliminate the ways and reasons for a kid to become a shooter.”

Teachers participating in the program who choose not to carry the gun on their person would be required to store it in a biometric gun safe, which uses unique biological data such as a fingerprint or retinal scan to verify the owner’s identity. They would have to pay out of pocket for the storage device.

Hannah Schoenbaum, The Associated Press

Photo: AP