Colo. school districts quietly taking up arms while gun debate rages in Denver

Greg Campbell | Contributor

A tiny school district in southwest Colorado — too small to afford an armed security guard and too far from the nearest town for deputies to respond quickly to an emergency — is the first to announce that its principal and superintendent will soon carry weapons to school.

The move comes amid a passionate debate on a slate of gun control measures making their way though the Democratic-controlled state legislature; a package of four bills, including one that would ban concealed weapons on college campuses, is expected to pass onto the state senate Monday.

A Republican-backed gun bill killed last month by Democrats would have allowed individual school districts to decide whether to allow teachers with concealed carry permits to bring guns to school.

Several districts — especially those in remote rural areas far from emergency services — are looking into creative ways to arm teachers, such as by hiring them for a nominal fee to work double duty as security guards or having them deputized by local sheriffs.

School District RE-2J in Dolores County, with a student population of 260 students, is the first to go through with such a measure.

Ty Gray, the principal of Dove Creek High School, and Superintendent Bruce Hankins will each take on the additional roles of school security officers in the coming weeks, according to 9News.

Colorado law allows guns in schools, but only in the hands of security guards or school resource officers.

“As a district we feel this is the best way to protect our kids in case something were to ever happen,” Gray told the TV station, noting that the district is 30 miles from the nearest town.

The issue of guns in schools — brought to the fore by the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year — highlights the differences between rural and urban attitudes about gun control. While it’s often about values and culture, it’s also just as often about common sense, according to Delta County Sheriff Fred McKee.

McKee has 18 schools in his “very rural” western Colorado county and he said, unlike in dense urban areas, it’s more difficult for his deputies to adequately cover the 1,000-square-mile territory to ensure an immediate response in an emergency. He thinks that arming teachers “is the only really reasonable, affordable solution to our problem, especially in rural Colorado.”

Although he said he’s only had informal conversations with schools in his county, other districts on the Western Slope are considering following Delores County’s lead. School district on the remote eastern plains are also weighing the idea.

McKee is also the president of County Sheriffs of Colorado, which opposes a bill working its way through the legislature to ban concealed weapons on college campuses. He said he believes most of the laws that seem destined to pass through the state capitol won’t do anything to improve public safety.

“Our concern is that it seems like all the bills that we’re really putting out there right now do nothing but restrict law abiding citizens from protecting themselves and their friends,” he said. “They don’t really do anything that would deter a criminal element from going on campus of a school and (they) just more or less create a situation where a person cannot protect themselves.”

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