Will arming teachers make schools safer? While that debate continues across the country, this week more than a dozen school employees from around Colorado spent three days learning advanced gun skills at a shooting range outside of Denver.
"I don't have any children of my own," says Kelly Blake, "so these students are my children." Blake is an agricultural education teacher at Fleming School in Colorado's eastern plains. She says she attended the advanced training, learning shooting accuracy, efficiency and gun safety, because she wants to make sure her students are "protected at all times."
The training comes from a group called FASTER, which stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training & Emergency Response. According to the group, it formed as a response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Each participant received about a $1,000 scholarship from Coloradans for Civil Liberties, a second amendment rights group, to attend.
"People are scared," says Laura Carno, the head of that group. "What I am hearing is that parents are saying to their school boards, 'What are you doing to keep my kids safe?' Up to and including armed staff."
And in a state like Colorado, with many rural schools, the argument sometimes boils down to time. "To be realistic, from a police officer perspective, we simply are not going to be there in time," says Graham Dunne, a local police officer who came to lend his hand. And it's true, schools in the state can sometimes be 30 to 45 minutes away from the nearest law enforcement.
It's clear that educators here would like to consider themselves first responders — stopping possible shooters and treating victims.
An FBI study found that during shootings, school staff sometimes have acted as first responders. In the instances considered, though, shooters were stopped more frequently by unarmed civilians than armed civilians.
The training stressed tactics, such as how to round a corner safely to stay protected from a shooter, or how to attend to gunshot wounds.
And instructors spent time on this question: Do these educators, who normally work as caretakers, have the right mindset to kill a shooter? What if the shooter is a student?
Other teachers worry having guns in the classroom is a bad idea, no matter which way you cut it.
"I think all teachers would prefer to be given the tools and resources to help our students, as opposed to being forced to shoot them," says Rachel Barnes of Denver. She teaches kindergarten through second grade, and is a member of a new national gun control group called Educators Demand Action.
Barnes worries that arming teachers makes it easier for accidents to happen. What about when students, especially little students, ask for a hug? Each morning her students run up to her and give her a big hug around the waist.
"To have these little hands touching that gun," she says, "I just don't see how that would mix well with school."
One teacher at the training says she just positions the gun so it doesn't interfere with students' hugs. We aren't using her name after her district asked to protect her privacy.
"My wardrobe has changed a little bit. I've found what conceals well, what doesn't, what's comfortable."
She's carried a concealed weapon into her classroom for more than two years. She says the question of being able to shoot and kill someone she knows has crossed her mind. She calls it her absolute worst nightmare. "I do understand that. And can I desensitize myself and say, 'Yes I will handle this correctly?' I hope I can never answer that question for you."
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