Starting on August 10, an organization called FASTER Colorado is sponsoring a three-day class to instruct teachers, administrators and other school personnel interested in carrying a gun on the job how to stop an active shooter. The idea of armed teachers in classrooms remains controversial, but FASTER Colorado executive director Laura Carno sees the concept as common sense, pure and simple.
"Why shouldn't the state that had Columbine have the safest kids in the country?" she asks.
Carno spent 25 years in the banking industry and has dabbled in politics for the past ten years. She describes herself as a registered Republican with Libertarian leanings, as exemplified by a book she wrote titled Government Ruins Nearly Everything. But, she notes, "I don't look at FASTER Colorado as politics.
"I'm a decades-long gun owner and have always believed that a well-trained and armed citizen — an ordinary citizen — can help save kids' lives inside a school and outside a school," she continues.
This view was cemented by her contact with FASTER Saves Lives. "It's a group in Ohio that started six years ago, just after Sandy Hook, with the goal of stopping these school shootings from happening," Carno explains. "A friend of mine invited me to one of their classes in 2016, and I came back a changed person. It changed my life."
Upon her return to Colorado, Carno penned an essay called "Keeping Kids Safe in a Broken World," which she says is "the longest thing I've written aside from my book. I interviewed a number of school staffers there anonymously, and I heard things like, 'I would put my body between bullets and other people's children. But why should I die to protect them when I can protect them and live?'"
With this theory in mind, Carno created FASTER Colorado with a little help from the Ohio crew. "We essentially license the curriculum that's been taught in Ohio," she reveals. "They licensed it to us for zero dollars, which was really kind of them — and I think we improved it by adding a couple of things. It's really good training — world-class."
The backgrounds of the FASTER Colorado trainers is a big reason for this quality, Carno feels. "We have four main instructors, and they're all active-duty law enforcement. They've either previously trained law enforcement or are currently training law enforcement, which is a big deal, because you can be great at skills but not great at communicating with people."
In addition, she continues, "they're also all previous or current SWAT team members. Of the two who are current members of SWAT teams in their agencies, one is a SWAT team leader and one is a SWAT commander. And three of the four have training companies outside their active-duty training. They've been training school staff members since right after Sandy Hook through their companies, so they're doing this day-to-day. And they all have a heart for schools. One has kids in rural schools, others have kids in more suburban schools. So when they're training these folks, they're training them as if they're in their own kids' schools."
Although most publicity related to arming school personnel has focused on teachers, Carno stresses that classroom instructors only make up about 40 percent of those who've taken FASTER Colorado classes to date. The other 60 percent "could be administrators, a coach, a bus driver, a janitor, a front-office secretary. Lots of different people. We don't advocate for that 60-40 split, but that's just how it's shaken out, and it's been consistent here and in Ohio."
Moreover, all of these folks "volunteer for these assignments. Nobody's forcing anybody to be an armed staff member. They are self-selecting, usually because they're already comfortable with firearms. We're not getting old Mrs. Applebaum saying, 'I'm so scared of guns, but sign me up.'" Indeed, actual novices or people who've been taught to shoot by family members as opposed to professionals are encouraged to take a separate firearms class prior to going through the FASTER Colorado program "because we start out at a higher level. We're focusing on a very specific skill set: stopping an active killer."
The FASTER Colorado approach falls into four main categories, with the first being "mindset training," Carno points out. "What I mean by that is, most of these people who murder kids in schools came from that school; they're either current or former students. And it's not everybody who can make that mental shift from 'This is a kid I know' to 'He's trying to kill my students.' After all, most people who work in schools are super-nice, and that's not an easy transition to make."
With that in mind, she says, "we take them through a pretty emotional first morning, where we look at the history of these deranged killers over time and help them understand that when these bad guys turn, you can't look at them as your student anymore. You have to use the love in your heart for the students you have now. You're trying to protect them, trying to stop this person from hurting them. So you have to know what you're signing up for, and I would say almost everybody gets that before they walk into class."
The second major component is "medical training," Carno goes on. "If you think about Sandy Hook, it was 45 minutes before medics were cleared to enter the facility, and we don't know how many people would have been saved if the school had had medically trained personnel and equipment like tourniquets. So we spend about four hours on medical training, and as part of the tuition, they get a trauma kit to take to their school."
She argues that such kits, including tourniquets, should be standard equipment at every school.
Up next is what Carno refers to as "tactical firearms training. And because everybody comes to us with moderate-to-extensive firearms training, it's not just people standing in their own lane at a range, standing and shooting at targets. There's some of that, of course, but it's much more active than that. There's moving and shooting, positional shooting behind a barrier, shooting from a kneeling position, shooting while prone on the ground. Our instructors explain how these things might come in handy in a bad situation. And there's a ton of work on reloading, changing your magazine quickly and clearing malfunctions. We even do exercises where there's a malfunction, but they don't know it's coming."
Accuracy is also emphasized, Carno says, "because there could be lots of innocent people around you. That's why the qualification they have to pass at the end of class exceeds the Colorado POST [Peace Officer Standards and Training] qualifications in handgun proficiency by two shots. And we make them pass 100 percent, just like law enforcement does."
In the fourth and final section of the training, "we bring it all together during the last half of day three with force-on-force scenarios. We use Airsoft guns, and everybody's got masks and that kind of stuff to protect themselves. We have some buildings out at the range set up like classrooms or hallways or a cafeteria or a library or what have you, and everybody gets to play the good guy, and everybody gets to play the bad guy. And when it's your turn to be the good guy, you have to solve whatever problem there is — and if it's somebody trying to kill your students, you need to stop that threat. Then we wrap it up by making sure medical care gets administered where needed, and even making sure the 911 call gets placed correctly."
There are no precise figures revealing how many school districts in Colorado either allow staff members to carry guns or are considering doing so. However, Carno says she's personally worked with 25 school districts (out of 181 statewide) and understands that around a dozen or so more are either in the process of adopting policies that would allow armed staffers or are considering the possibility.
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Many of these schools are in rural parts of the state, but Carno knows of some in suburban or metropolitan areas, including "a fair number of charter schools."
The tuition for FASTER Colorado isn't cheap — but options are available.
"It costs us about $1,000 to put folks through this, and most of the districts can't afford that," Carno acknowledges. "But we're a nonprofit, and we raise private money to go toward this. So if a school district can't afford it, they can go through for free. That's part of what sets us apart. We don't make money on this. I work ridiculous hours on it because I'm driven. I beg people for money to support this cause, because that's how important I think it is."
The training takes place August 10-12 in Adams County, with some instruction taking place on the shooting range used by the Adams County Sheriff's Office. Click to learn more about FASTER Colorado and to get details about this weekend's class, including registration information.