- (Photo: Reuters/Brian Blanco)
Hundreds of teachers gathered in an indoor sports arena in Utah on Dec. 27 to participate in a free instruction course on the handling of firearms, the latest preventative measure taken to thwart future mass school shootings, such as the one in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14.
"If we have the ability to stop something, we should do it," Jessica Fiveash told The Associated Press. Fiveash was one of the 200 teachers who gathered at the arena on Thursday to learn how to safely use a firearm.
The six-hour instruction course was organized by the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the state's leading gun lobby, which told Reuters that in the past, annual training sessions have attracted an average of 16 teachers, but the recent shooting in Newtown produced so many applicants that the council was forced to cap attendance at 200 for its December session.
Although the turnout at Thursday's instructional class proved massive, not everyone believes it is a good idea to equip school teachers with guns.
Critics contend that equipping a teacher with a gun introduces a new slew of risks, such as a disgruntled student using the teacher's gun to harm others. They argue that, ultimately, the safest route is to allow only law enforcement officials to carry firearms.
"How would I keep that gun safe?" questioned Kerrie Anderson, a choir and math teacher at a junior high school near Salt Lake City.
"I wouldn't carry [it] on my person while teaching, where a disgruntled student could overpower me and take it. And if I have it secured in my office, it might not be a viable form of protection," Anderson added.
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, told AP that the purpose of arming teachers with guns is not so they can seek out the shooter, but rather the gun provides "one more option if the shooter" enters a classroom.
Aposhian contends that with a gun comes added responsibility.
"It's going to be a hassle. It's another responsibility. You can't just leave your gun lying around, not for a minute," Aposhian told AP.
Thursday's class, which waived the usual $50 attendance fee, included instruction with plastic guns and allowed participating teachers the opportunity to register for a concealed-weapons permit.
Utah isn't the only state offering the option of gun instruction to teachers.
In Ohio and Arizona, firearms groups and state legislatures are making moves to enable educators to carry concealed weapons, according to AP.
On the morning of Dec. 14, Adam Lanza, 20, opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., killing 26 victims before turning the gun on himself. Police say Lanza also killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, at home before driving to the schoool.
The recent shooting, which was the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history behind the Virginia Tech tragedy of 2007, has sparked a nationwide debate on stricter gun control laws in the country.
President Barack Obama called for change while speaking during a memorial service in Newtown on Dec. 16, saying,"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change."
Obama afterward appointed Vice President Joe Biden to lead a panel on suggesting gun law proposals in January 2013.
Still, some observers predict a fierce legislation battle regarding the imposition of stricter gun control laws, as many Americans believe it is their right to carry a firearm for their personal protection and point to the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
Additionally, while others call for fewer guns, pro-gun groups, such as the National Rifle Association, contend that more guns is the answer.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, said in a press conference on Dec. 21, suggesting that Congress should do "whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation."