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Gun training for Colorado school teachers gains momentum, advocates say

May 31, 2017 Updated: May 31, 2017 at 5:36 pm
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FILE - Julia Lewis fires a handgun Thursday, December 22, 2016, on one of the 25 meter firing ranges at Magnum Shooting Center. (Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette)

As state legislators continue to shoot down bills that would give carte blanche approval for Colorado teachers and other staff to carry concealed guns on school grounds, training is gaining momentum for school districts that have taken matters into their own hands.

Laura Carno, co-founder of Coloradans for Civil Liberties, said she's talked to about 60 school employees from around the state interested in the first advanced training course her organization is providing in a few weeks at a Weld County Sheriff's Office facility north of Denver.

"People want a fighting chance," she said. "One person is killed every 17 seconds in mass shootings. Even if you have a school resource officer in one hallway, if this happens in another hallway, how many 17 seconds is OK?"

Carrying concealed weapons on public school property is not allowed under Colorado law, except by designated security officers. Bills to change the state law have repeatedly been defeated.

But some school districts have enabled teachers and other personnel who are not normally security officers to be trained and assume the role.

The movement started after a gunman killed 20 students and six employees in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Of the state's 178 public school districts, "dozens" now have armed staff, Carno said.

"There are many more schools with armed staff than we thought. I'm hearing from another dozen that are contemplating it," she said, adding that "95 percent don't make it public."

The only known district to do so in the Pikes Peak region is Hanover School District 28, southeast of Colorado Springs. The five-member board approved arming staff last December, on a hotly debated 3-2 vote.

The decision was made on the fourth anniversary of the attack on Sandy Hook. A survey showed that students, parents, staff and community members were split almost evenly, with half in support of the idea and half in opposition.

The policy received final consent this spring, and employees who have volunteered are taking training courses, said Superintendent Grant Schmidt.

According to the policy, the armed staff must remain anonymous, he said. Schmidt also declined to say how many employees are participating.

"There are people who say more guns mean kids could be caught in the crossfire," Carno said. "Could a gun in the hands of a teacher have made anything worse than that crazy coward shooting child after child at Sandy Hook with nothing to stop him?"

Brooke Squires, the local leader of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said her organization supports Second Amendment rights but prefers that law enforcement take care of criminal situations and not ordinary citizens with guns.

"We don't want to confiscate guns, but we don't want the proliferation," she said.

An average of 90 people, eight of whom are children, die in the United States each day from gun violence, Squires said.

"To me, that's an epidemic," she said. "If we were losing 90 people a day to some sort of plague, we would do something."

She and others in her organization will observe Friday as the third annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Supporters will wear orange, the color hunters don to protect themselves and the favorite color of a 15-year-old Chicago teen shot and killed in 2013, one week after she performed at President Barack Obama's second inaugural parade.

"We have very efficient police men and women," Squires said. "We don't want novices carrying around guns."

Emergency response times up 30 to 45 minutes in the rural community of Hanover is one of the reasons the school board adopted the concealed carry policy late last year.

Since then, the east Whistling Pines Gun Club, near East Highway 24 and Marksheffel Road, has had more teachers interested in becoming certified to carry concealed firearms, said spokeswoman Lana Fore.

"The response has been phenomenal," she said.

Last March, she started offering concealed carry classes for teachers.

"We have trained 40 teachers," she said, adding that they were not all from Hanover D-28.

Educators from other school districts in the region want to be prepared in case their boards decide to let them to carry guns on campus, she said.

Another introduction class for educators who want to obtain a concealed carry permit will be held July 16 at the Whistling Pines indoor shooting range near Garden of the Gods Road and Centennial Boulevard. The cost is $100 for members and $125 for non-members. The website is whistlingpinesgunclub.com.

While the Whistling Pines training is for beginners, Carno's organization, along with the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Denver, is debuting its first course, Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response, or FASTER.

Trainers from Ohio, where 900 teachers have taken the program in the past five years, will be in northern Colorado on June 20 to conduct the advanced training, Carno said. It's for people who already have a concealed handgun permit and are designated or being designated by their school district as security officers and able to carry firearms on campus.

Participants will learn mindset techniques, skills to stop active shooters, force-on-force training with airsoft weapons, advanced medical instructions to handle injuries such as gunshot wounds, and other information.

School districts that cannot afford the $1,000 fee for the course are eligible to send employees for free, through scholarships, Carno said. More information is available at FasterColorado.com.

Said Fore: "There are people who are crazy, and it doesn't matter if it's a knife or a gun or a baseball bat, we need to put people and our teachers on an equal playing ground."

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