Summit community leaders participate in panel on the role of guns in schools and places of worship
BRECKENRIDGE — Community members from across the county gathered Sunday night at Colorado Mountain College to take in a conversation about gun violence and the role of firearms in schools and places of worship.
The event served as a kickoff for the fourth annual Summer Sundays Film Series put on by the Summit Colorado Interfaith Council, a coalition of faith-based groups in Summit County that works to address and lead conversations surrounding important social issues. While the group has tackled gun violence in previous incarnations, organizers wanted to return to the topic with a more specific focus on firearms in traditionally gun free areas.
“It’s a topic that just keeps coming up,” the Interfaith Council’s Diane Luellen said. “Tragic events keep happening and happening, and our film committee felt we’d stick with that topic again this summer.”
In addition to a pair of short documentaries, the event also featured a panel on the topic including Breckenridge Police Chief Jim Baird, executive director of the Colorado Council of Churches Adrian Miller and Summit School District safety and security manager Aaron Quirk.
“G is for Gun: The Arming of America’s Teachers,” a film by Kate Way and Julie Akeret, details efforts and opposition to training and arming teachers in Sidney, Ohio — an ever growing national debate after some states passed laws allowing teachers to be armed. “God’s Guns,” from Polygooi Productions, focuses on the dichotomy between a church in Kentucky actively arming its congregation with gun raffles during services and the members of the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which responded to the church’s 2015 shooting with the national “Hate Won’t Win” movement.
After the screenings, the panelists fielded questions from moderator Jonathan Knopf and members of the crowd.
Quirk, who’s responsible for safety measures for the Summit School District, said that while the conversation has come up, he’s never seriously considered attempts to arm teachers, noting that guns should be left with professionals.
“Summit School District does not have any armed teachers,” Quirk said. “The only people who are armed are the individuals with badges. … The individual in the (documentary) said he could get them trained in three days. That’s very, very unrealistic. It takes countless hours. So arming teachers is not the answer, I promise you.
“For people in my position, building relationships with law enforcement is huge because they can make the kids feel more comfortable going to school, and that’s who’s trained to do that job. Teachers are trained to build relationships with kids, to help them and guide them.”
Miller said he’s seen similar conversations pop up in faith communities around the state, saying that he’s aware of numerous places of worship wherein leadership may know of individuals in the congregation with concealed guns inconspicuously serving as security without the knowledge of the rest of the congregation. Still, Miller said he was against the arming of teachers and churchgoers.
“It is a concern, and what I’m seeing coming across my email and phone is there are more organized trainings now occurring with churches,” said Miller, who emphasized he was speaking for himself and not on behalf of the Colorado Council of Churches. “You’ve got groups going around the country inviting faith communities to come get specialized training for such things … but most congregations I know have decided not to arm anyone in their sanctuary. They said, ‘We’re not going to fear, and we believe that love will conquer hate.’ I believe in that position, but once something happens, you start asking questions. That’s what is leading a lot of faith leaders to take the step of actually having armed people in their congregation. The ‘what ifs’ are too horrific.”
Baird didn’t give a definitive position on the topic either way, but he did provide some insight on the likely response of police during an active shooter situation. Baird set a timer on his phone and began walking around the room mock-shooting audience members with a finger-gun for five minutes, saying that the department likely wouldn’t get a call for a couple of minutes and may not have officers on scene for a couple more.
“Obviously, this is a very intense subject, and there are people that feel very passionately about it on both sides,” Baird said. “There are some people who truly believe the teacher’s role should be in a silo. They’re there to educate children and shouldn’t have a role in school security. On the other side of the coin, we know it is going to take a couple minutes, probably, for the police to even be aware of this incident. … In that five minutes, how much damage could happen?”
Baird and Quirk both lauded Summit’s school system for its existing safety measures, including school resource officers from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office at the middle and high schools, and locking doors requiring visitors to be buzzed in by staff. Quirk said the schools also do annual shooter-based lockdown drills, which are attended by the Sheriff’s Office and police departments around the county. The state’s Safe2Tell anonymous tip line also saw a record number of reports last month, signifying that kids are more willing than ever to report suspicious behavior.
As the debate about the role of firearms in schools and places of worship continues to evolve, Miller stressed that there were other potential solutions to the gun violence problem.
“I think there are always steps we can take,” Miller said. “To change the culture, one of the things we have to do is create safe spaces where people who disagree can come to that space and just listen to each other. That’s the first step. … But it’s been hard to create a dialogue where we truly hear each other.”
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