Colorado Senate shoots down bill allowing teachers to pack heat

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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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.”

“What is your answer then, for Yuma and Lonestar that came out and said they support this?” Renfroe asked. “So you’re telling them because of your opinions of a crossfire at your school with your child that they shouldn’t have their constitutional right to defend themselves or their students within their district?”

Ulibarri replied that the school district can budget for an armed community resource officer if it wishes.

“That school board that doesn’t have a school resource officer, I’m not sure how that’s my responsibility,” he said. “It sounds like that’s a decision made at the school board level.”

The bill died 3-2 on party lines after five hours of testimony, with Democrats citing accidental gun death statistics, lack of feedback from school districts and the relatively minimal training required of concealed carry permit holders compared to police when voting it down.

“They may be a crack shot or a crackpot,” Ulibarri said. “I don’t know.”

Republicans were clearly exasperated.

“I don’t understand the logic of voting against this bill and then dropping your kids off at school,” said Republican Sen. Steve King.

Monday’s bill was the first of several that will deal with gun issues, but Republican-backed bills aren’t expected to get far since Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Still to be heard is a bill that would make businesses liable if they forbid guns and don’t provide one armed guard for every 50 people, and another that would allow business owners and employees to use deadly force against intruders.

Democrats have yet to introduce their bills, which are expected to require universal background checks and ban high-capacity magazines, among other measures.

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Greg Campbell