These Teachers Are Learning Gun Skills To Protect Students, They Say

Jun 25, 2017
Originally published on June 26, 2017 11:16 am

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."

She says carrying a gun is worth it to protect her 20 students.

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

This week, a group of educators in Colorado spent three days learning advanced gun skills. They say they're training to become armed first responders at their schools, stopping possible shooters and treating victims. But other educators in Colorado and across the nation say guns should not be in the classroom. Colorado Public Radio's Jenny Brundin has this report, which we should say begins with the sound of gunfire at this week's training.

JENNY BRUNDIN, BYLINE: That sound - that's a seventh grade teacher in action. And that, a school bus driver. Both shooting guns on a sweltering day at a shooting range an hour north of Denver, working on accuracy and efficiency.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Something I want to point out to you.

BRUNDIN: Burly men in camouflage, weapons experts, give technique tips to educators as they practice shooting while moving.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You're blocking it with your other finger. It's making it harder for you to get your mag out.

BRUNDIN: Educators say they're doing the three-day training to keep children safe.

KELLY BLAKE: I don't have any children of my own. So these students are my children.

BRUNDIN: Kelly Blake is an agricultural education teacher at Fleming School in Colorado's eastern plains.

BLAKE: I care about each and every one of them. I want to make sure that they're protected at all times.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Get those guns up and running.

BRUNDIN: The training comes from the group FASTER. That's short for Faculty Administrators Safety Training and Emergency Response. It's an Ohio-based organization that formed after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. But a local Second Amendment group paved the way, giving each participant a $1,000 scholarship for the advanced training.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: One more time. Move the magazines. Put it somewhere.

BRUNDIN: Some Colorado law enforcement pitched in, too, to lend their expertise. Graham Dunne says if educators can be the first responders that could save lives.

GRAHAM DUNNE: To be realistic, from a police officer perspective, we're simply not going to be there in time.

BRUNDIN: That's the driving force for many rural schools who are 30 to 45 minutes away from the nearest law enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Do you see me?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #7: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: That's the advantage of space and angles.

BRUNDIN: The training stresses tactics like how to round a corner safely to stay protected from a shooter. It also teaches how to deal with gunshot wounds. And instructors spend time on this question, do the educators who normally work as caretakers have the right mindset to kill a shooter, especially if it's a student?

RACHEL BARNES: I think all teachers would prefer to be given the tools and the resources to help our students as opposed to being forced to shoot them.

BRUNDIN: That's Rachel Barnes of Denver. She teaches kindergarten through second grade and is a member of a new national gun control group, Educators Demand Action. She worries that guns in the classroom make it easier for accidents to happen. Some research backs that up. An FBI study found that unarmed civilians were actually more successful in stopping shooters than civilians with guns. As a teacher, Barne says, each morning her students run up to her and give her a big hug around the waist.

BARNES: And to have these little hands touching that gun, I just don't see how that would mix well with school.

BRUNDIN: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: My wardrobe has changed a little bit. I found what conceals well, what doesn't, what's comfortable so I know what it feels like. Some days it's just like this was really heavy. This was out of place. And some days...

BRUNDIN: It's not so bad, she says. She's carried a concealed weapon for more than two years. She says she has thought about whether she could shoot someone she knows.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: That is my absolute worst nightmare. And, yes, I do understand that. And can I desensitize myself and say, yes, I'll handle this correctly. I hope I can never answer that question for you.

BRUNDIN: She says carrying a gun is worth it to protect her 20 students. For NPR News, I'm Jenny Brundin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.