Teachers pursue ‘more secure form of protection’
Until recently, kindergarten teacher Kellie Funk just wasn’t that interested in guns.
“Honestly, I’ve never owned a gun. I’ve shot a gun probably once in my life,” the 14-year teacher from Ogden, Utah said. “It really is kind of frightening to me.”
What made Funk face her fear—she is now pursuing gun training and a concealed carry permit—was being confronted with a much greater terror: the horrific and senseless elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn. that claimed the lives of 20 children and six teachers and school staff.
While the country mourned and policy makers on both sides of the aisle vowed to end the violence, little changed on the individual school level, as far as Funk was concerned. She and other teachers were instructed to discuss the shooting only if the students brought it up, and life at school continued as usual, albeit with a chilling private realization.
“The reality is, there’s no way I can protect 25 kids. There’s no way I can hide 25 kids. You’re kind of on edge,” she said.
Funk’s cousin, Ashley Hansen, had a similar epiphany, gaining a newfound interest in carrying a personal firearm after the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. last July.
“I don’t have any interest in sport, I don’t have any other interest other than having something to protect our family,” Hansen said. “I’ll definitely take a class for sure.”
Hansen and Funk are part of a larger trend of citizens, particular educators, examining the merits of gun ownership with new eyes and an increasing awareness of the value of self-defense. In Utah, one of the few states where teachers and school staff are permitted to carry concealed weapons on school premises.
Utah Shooting Sports Council Chairman Clark Aposhian made headlines late last year by hosting a special concealed gun training course just for 200 Utah educators, much to the dismay of left-leaning teachers’ unions.
Reached last week, Aposhian said he was stunned at the level of interest that he continues to observe in gun training for Utah educators.
“They are breaking down the doors to get in here,” he said.
Damon Thueson, founder of independent Utah self-defense advocacy organization Defense Actions, said he too is fielding more interest in guns and self-protection from those who work in schools.
“I have seen and talked to lots of educators who have just kind of finally gotten their feet wet and are pursuing a more secure form of protection,” Thueson said.
While the Newtown shooting is the obvious catalyst of this new interest, Thueson said his concealed firearm permit classes experienced a noticeable teacher population explosion after President Barack Obama’s January public address on gun control in which he issued 20 executive actions including funding for additional school counseling, but not additional school security.
Not everyone who works in a school wants to start taking a gun to work, Thueson said, but many feel that knowledge is power.
“With the majority of interest with educators, they’re getting their feet wet,” he said. “And then from there, after getting certain levels of education, they’re making the decision of whether they’re going to carry at school.”
Thueson said he was thrilled to see more educators grappling with the question of how to defend themselves and their classrooms. “It’s something that should have happened 10 years ago,” he said.
Reports have estimated that around 1 percent of Utah educators carry concealed firearms. It’s not clear how this slow tide of new interest will affect that figure.
Overall in Utah, there were 411,604 valid concealed firearms permits in the state at the end of 2012, meaning more than 15 percent of the state’s population is licensed to carry concealed weapons, according to Utah’s Department of Public Safety.
The number is up by more than 20,000 permits since September 2012 alone. Looking back further, the demand for a concealed carry permit has been on a slow rise for some time: the number of concealed carry permit holders in Utah is nearly six times higher now than it was in 2005.
No statistics are available to describe how many Utah educators carry concealed weapons, but gun rights organizations have estimated that one percent of teachers are licensed to carry.
What is clear is that a careful, soul-searching choice for many—often, one they’d rather not have to make.
Funk said she’d much rather see a designated armed guard stationed at school buildings than classrooms with armed schoolteachers.
“I think that would deter a lot of people,” she said. “Knowing that you’re entering a school with someone there at all times, logically, (shooters) would think about going somewhere else.”
Even though she admits she feels vulnerable working at a school with no armed security and doors that lock on the outside, Funk said she’s not sure she will make the choice to carry a weapon to school. She cited a natural concern for parents that those who were armed would act carelessly or fail to secure their firearms. (Utah law stipulates that these guns would have to be safely concealed on the owner’s person at all times).
Nonetheless, and in spite of her concerns, Funk said she may in the future make the difficult choice to carry a weapon to work because of the little ones who would count on her for protection in case of the sort of disaster you pray will never happen.
“After what happened, you realize that your odds are greater if you have a way to protect yourself rather than just hoping for a miracle,” she said.