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Guns in Colorado public schools? GOP politicians want concealed handguns in class

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Since the tragic Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, lawmakers across the country have been debating what policy solutions could help reduce the risk of a devastating massacre in the future. In Colorado, some Democratic legislators have proposed tighter restrictions on access to guns. But a few have a different idea that is sure to spark controversy: allow permitted employees to bring guns on school property.

The proposed Senate Bill 13-009, on view below, would give school boards the authority to allow employees of the district to carry a concealed handgun in the buildings and on school grounds -- if the employee has a permit to carry.

"There will always be people that seek the same attention that the Aurora shooter is receiving right now," says Representative Lori Saine, a House sponsor of the bill, which was introduced in the Senate by senators Scott Renfroe and Ted Harvey. (All three are Republicans).

Renfroe, who represents Greeley, says, "It's clear that the current policy of gun-free zones and banning guns isn't working. Let's be honest and take the emotion out of it.... It's a signal that someone has the time to get in and do whatever criminal act and evil they want to do."

He adds, "We have to do something."

The debate around this proposal will likely mirror the arguments that have played out regarding the right to bring guns to college campuses. Boulder Representative Claire Levy, a Democrat, is going to introduce a bill this session that would explicitly ban guns from college buildings. This would change the current policy, which says those with concealed-carry permits are allowed to have guns on University of Colorado campuses, as ordered by the Colorado Supreme Court last year.

Supporters of a campus ban on guns -- which are already prohibited at most dormitories and ticketed events -- argue that colleges are especially dangerous settings for guns. Full-fledged bans would reduce the risks of violence, they argue.

Supporters of the ban argue that the recent case of a permitted University of Colorado staffer accidentally firing her gun in an office, injuring herself and a colleague, is clear proof of why this policy change is needed.

The other side argues that if officials ban guns, they are only creating areas criminals will choose to target, because they know people will be vulnerable and unprotected there.

Backers of the new concealed-carry-in-schools measure believe elementary and secondary schools are examples of such targets.

The bill says, in part:

In addition to any other power granted to a board of education of a school district by law, each board of education of a school district shall have the following specific powers, to be exercised in its judgment:

To adopt a written policy that allows an employee of the district to carry a concealed handgun within the buildings, including school buildings, and on school grounds of the school district if the employee holds a valid permit to carry a concealed handgun.... The policy may include requirements, in addition to holding a valid concealed handgun permit, that an employee must meet, including but not limited to completing training.

The bill's sponsors emphasize that the legislation would not require all school boards and districts to allow guns on their property. Rather, they would simply give boards the opportunity to pass a policy permitting them. And those policies could include stricter requirements than just having a valid permit by law, such as mandatory training.

Continue for more details on the proposal to allow concealed handguns in schools. Referencing some of the details that emerged last week during the preliminary hearing of James Holmes, who is accused of killing twelve and injuring dozens more last summer at an Aurora movie theater, Renfroe says, "That evil criminal took the time to study the place, take pictures. He picked it out and he knew what he was doing."

Renfroe notes that he spent eight years on a school board and held the position during the Columbine shootings. He also currently serves on a charter school board. He argues that there are probably school employees throughout the state who are well trained and could stop intruders if they had the opportunity.

"I know several examples of retired military veterans that are teaching now or retired police officers in our schools," he says. "What a tragedy it would be if someone like that [who]...is completely skilled and able to protect is not given that chance.... We need to look at the bigger picture."

In response to arguments that more guns are not the answer and can only increase the risk of accidents, he says, "If we trust teachers to educate...I think you could trust a teacher to decide if they are comfortable and qualified to carry.... If they are going to make that choice to carry, they're also going to take that responsibility seriously."

Given all the talk of gun policy in Colorado, Saine says, "The timing is perfect.... It's time to have this conversation. It's actually past the time to have this conversation."

She says, "It's changing the conversation about what is compassionate -- protecting our children in any way that we can."

Both Saine and Renfroe say they do not support gun control policies that favor stricter regulations, arguing that criminals will always find ways to violate the law.

"They are trying to restrict law-abiding citizens from receiving weapons," Saine says of gun control proponents. "Folks who do things like shooting up a theater...do they follow laws?"

Renfroe says banning any kind of weapon means law-abiding citizens will only be that much more defenseless against criminals.

"I believe in the Second Amendment and I believe in protecting myself and my family and my property," he says, "And I want to be able to do that with at least the same amount of firepower that a criminal is going to come at me with."

Continue for the full proposal. Here's the bill.

Senate Bill 13-009

More from our Colorado Crimes archive: "Photos: Pro-gun rally overshadows anti-fracking protest at Capitol on day one of new session"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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