Colorado Senate shoots down bill allowing teachers to pack heat

In the first of many battles to come over gun rights and  restrictions, Colorado state senators debated — and ultimately killed — a Republican-backed bill to allow teachers to carry weapons in the classroom Monday.

It would have given individual school boards the power to decide whether to let employees with concealed carry permits bring their guns to school. It also allowed school boards to require armed employees to complete additional training if they felt it necessary.

After high-profile shooting incidents in Connecticut and Aurora, bill co-sponsor Sen. Scott Renfroe said he wanted to enable teachers and other school employees to provide a first line of defense in future incidents.

“There’s examples around the country of heroes stepping up and protecting themselves and others with concealed carry, and that’s what this bill would allow,” Renfroe said. “Police can’t be everywhere, and they aren’t everywhere.”

An added element of the bill, he said, would have been a deterrent effect.

“Concealed carry means just that,” he said. “You don’t know who’s carrying. It could be one person in the school, it could be a hundred, it could be everyone, it could be none of them. It’s just taking away that open ended gun-free zone [that] allows that psychotic person that opportunity, without any threat against them, to have time to wreak havoc in our schools.”

Even though the majority of those testifying supported the bill, neither Renfroe or his co-sponsor, Sen. Ted Harvey, expected it to survive the Democratic-dominated committee.

“I wish the Democrats wouldn’t play politics with it and would care about student safety and staff safety enough to look at this,” Renfroe said shortly before the hearing began.

Jeremy Weathers, the district accountability chairman for the Lonestar School District near the small northeastern Colorado town of Yuma, drove more than two hours to testify in support of the bill. He told the committee that police response time to his remote rural school would be at least 30 minutes in the event of an emergency.

In 2010, an inmate escaped from a maximum security prison near Yuma and eluded authorities for days; he was eventually found within two miles of the school.

Weathers said his school district would “immediately put this into place.” Teachers have volunteered to apply for concealed carry permits if the law passed, and he said parents have volunteered to help pay for any additional training the district might require.

Debate about the bill was often testy, especially between the bill sponsors and committee vice chairman Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, who said he worried about children being caught in crossfire if teachers started shooting it out with a gunman.

“I don’t like the idea of us arming everyone tooth and nail and shooting back and forth with kids in the middle, that’s my concern.”