TEACHERS in Utah have been told that an edict permitting them to carry concealed guns in school is not a license to use firearms.
Education chiefs in Jordan, the state's largest education authority with 80 schools in suburban Salt Lake City, informed teachers last week that, although they will have the right to carry a concealed weapon, if they fire it they will be in breach of contract and subject to the law.
Other authorities are encouraging would-be pistol-packing teachers to keep their guns hidden on their person in a holster, instead of in a locker or drawer open to students. Openly brandishing weapons is strictly forbidden.
America's gun lobby cheered but many teachers jeered when National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston suggested arming teachers to stem escalating school violence in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine massacre.
But in May a new law overturned 1995 legislation designating a 1,000-ft gun exclusion zone around schools to address fears that advertising gun-free schools is an open invitation to armed assailants.
"If you create a gun-free zone it's the law-abiding people who obey it, but rather than a safe zone for them, you create a safe zone for those intent on harm," said John Lott of conservative think-tank the American Enterprise Institute. He predicted the Utah Bill's passage would lend impetus to similar initiatives elsewhere.
While school chiefs are anxious that Utah's gun law, forbidding permit-holders from disclosing they are armed, will keep them in the dark about who is carrying weapons. Lott said this was a boon for foiling assailants.
"Attackers don't know who can defend themselves. If you wear a gun openly, they'd be deterred from attacking you. Concealed weapon laws benefit those who don't own a gun."
But many educators fear that having guns around increases the likelihood they will be used and ups the ante if disputes arise. "Once someone knows there's a gun available that becomes a new option," said Lynette Phillips, a Jordan board member.
"Some people think they're still in the Wild West," she added, noting that armed police officers already patrol Utah's secondary schools to deter assailants.