By Sheila McGuire
Uinta County Herald
Via Wyoming News Exchange
EVANSTON — Public comments about proposed rule CKA continued on Tuesday, Jan. 22, as the Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees held the second of two public hearings on the rule, which would allow approved district employees to carry concealed firearms on district property. Trustees Russell Cox and Dave Bennett did not attend the hearing.
During the previous hearing, the board heard comments from 15 citizens, with nine of those in favor of the policy and six opposed. At the Jan. 22 hearing, 17 people shared their thoughts, with eight opposing the rule and nine in favor, although four of those who spoke in favor were repeat speakers who had also appeared at the previous meeting. Between the two hearings a total of 28 different individuals spoke and they were evenly divided between those supporting and those opposed to the rule.
The first five speakers at the Jan. 22 hearing said they were opposed to the rule that would allow teachers to be armed.
Tiffany Hope said she has read through all of the documents about the proposed rule. She asked multiple questions of the board based on her reading and said there is a lot of ambiguity.
“When talking about guns in schools, ambiguity is something we can’t have,” she said.
Hope said she is concerned the proposed rule doesn’t require enough training and said she would like to know about the impacts of the rule on the district’s budget and what the district would cut to pay for the program if budgets shrink again in the future. She also asked about what other options had been considered and said, “Why aren’t we looking at preventing an armed shooter incident in the first place?”
Mike Cornia, who described himself as a concerned citizen and general curmudgeon, said, “This is a really drastic solution but where’s the problem? I haven’t heard of any school shootings in Wyoming.”
He said he also has concerns with the rule, including that the rule says applicants must disclose prior criminal convictions but doesn’t say such convictions would be disqualifying. He also asked if there is a limit to how many times a person could fail the firearm training before being disqualified. Cornia quoted a junior high school principal from Gillette who was praised for disarming a student at school without using a weapon, who said, “I believe in relationships over bullets.”
Colleen Kunz shared statistics from the Violence Policy Center, including on the relatively poor accuracy of even highly trained law enforcement officers in armed confrontations.
“The focus should be on preventing gunsfrom getting into schools,” Kunz said, “rather than relying on teachers to have shootouts with students.”
Citizens Gina Morrow and Joice Mander also spoke in opposition to the rule, both stating there isn’t enough evidence to support the proposal.
Parent Nicholas White, who was a member of the committee that drafted the concealed carry policy last year, said he still supports the rule and believes it needs to be pushed through.
“This is not for everybody,” he said, “but for those who want it, give them the chance to protect themselves.”
Evanston High School teacher Jenny White said she also stands behind the policy. She shared a situation she experienced while teaching when there was a threat of violence.
“The kids I was teaching were the tough kids who were convinced they could rule the world, and seeing their reaction was horrifying,” Jenny White said. “All I could do was die first and that is something I never want to feel again.”
She questioned the validity of statistics used by those opposed to the policy. “I love stats but when you actually look at them you can make stats say whatever you want them to,” she said.
Jenny White and fellow teacher Scott Robinson, who returned to the podium after speaking at the previous hearing, said they know there are teachers who are very against the proposal and claimed a teacher who is no longer with the district had threatened them over their support.
Parent Bill Housley said this is an emotional topic for him and he supports the proposed rule.
“Something has happened to our culture,” Housley said. “… How can a locally elected body address the reckless hate and insensitivity to the value of life that seems to motivate people these days to act with such violence?”
Parent and district employee Nena Germany-Greer said she is opposed to the rule and was speaking for a number of fellow district employees who are very concerned but feel they are not able to speak out. She said the discord between teachers over the rule is concerning.
“This separates and divides us and doesn’t provide a way for continuing to pursue excellence,” she said.
Germany-Greer said her father was an armament instructor in the armed forces and she was taught that “if you pick up a weapon, you intend to use it.” She said having teachers mentally preparing to shoot students eliminates any option to de-escalate situations or get students counseling.
Tim Beppler, one of the two Evanston attorneys who filed suit against the district over the concealed carry policy last year, said he had submitted a number of attachments and written testimony from the Giffords Law Center showing the increased risk that would accompany adoption of the rule outweighed any potential protective effects.
Beppler said public schools are special places where children learn and are gathering places for the community. He quoted former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who said, “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding provisions on laws forbidding carrying of firearms in public places such as schools or public buildings,” in reference to a supreme court decision about firearms.
Parent and district employee Jayme Jorgensen said she thinks there are misconceptions among people who oppose the rule that anyone can get approval to concealed carry, which is not the case. She said she has had students ask if she would really put her own life on the line for them and she answers without hesitation that she would and said there are instances where people who were armed had stopped and prevented mass shootings.
Jorgensen’s husband Bob also spoke and said he, too, supports the rule. He referenced the Wyoming State Hospital and the possibility people with mental illness could attempt to harm students. Both Jorgensens had also spoken at the previous hearing.
Assistant superintendent Doug Rigby said he supports the rule for two reasons. He said he believes the district should provide an opportunity for staff to defend themselves. Rigby also said he fears an incident occurring in one of the common areas of the schools, such as cafeterias, where the casualties could be significant, and he said he believes an armed and trained teacher could stop a shooter in that situation. He also said a proposal in the state legislature would repeal gun-free zones and allow anyone to carry a firearm into a school and he believes having armed teachers will be even more necessary if such a bill passes.
Others speaking in favor of the proposed rule were former state senator Paul Barnard and Karl Allred, who spoke at the previous hearing as well.