SALISBURY — The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut left an imprint on the minds of many.
The December shootings prompted renewed gun control debate. North Carolina legislators proposed an expansion on state laws that would put firearms in the hands of teachers. These teachers would need training to protect students from a violent intruder.
Local firearms instructors offered free courses this weekend at the Rowan County Wildlife Association to prepare teachers if the bill is passed and teachers are allowed to have guns in classrooms. The course is the first step in obtaining a concealed carry permit. Students who participated in Saturday's class received certification and afterward can pursue the permit process. Another class will be held March 9 at the Rowan County Wildlife Association, 650 Majolica Road in Salisbury. Four instructors led the class — Claude Paris, Steve Karriker, Gary Steeley and his wife, Michelle. The class included gun safety, laws and target shooting.
The club paid for the class, range time, books, certificates and targets.
Lynn Haynes , a Corriher-Lipe Middle School teacher, was one of nearly 30 teachers and administrators from Rowan, Davidson, Cabarrus and Mecklenburg counties who attended the Saturday morning course.
Haynes said although the Sandy Hook event was tragic and it “made us a little more aware of safety,” it wasn't the reason she decided to participate in the course. She had already decided to take the training for her own safety.
This week, State Sen. Andrew Brock introduced a bill that would allow private or church-affiliated school employees to carry concealed handguns on campus. School employees would be required to have a concealed carry permit and received training from a National Rifle Association instructor.
If the bill is passed and Rowan County schools participate, Haynes said she doesn't believe she would be one of those teachers carrying a handgun.
“I wouldn't feel qualified. I don't think someone should carry a gun in school who hasn't gone through safety training,” Haynes said.
She believes school systems and individual schools should look at their own response to whether teachers and other employees would be allowed to carry a handgun on campus.
She said if she were to carry a handgun, it would be for her own protection within her own home, not at a school campus.
Haynes' husband has a concealed carry permit, but she does not. She has gone to the range with him and has handled a firearm before. She took advantage of the course and training.
“When this opportunity came, I thought I would jump on it. I had thought about it for a long time,” she said.
Instructor Claude Paris said the reason for the free classes is in response to the Sandy Hook shooting and what's happening right now with the state legislature.
“We are giving them the basic information. We are trying to educate people who are not familiar with firearms,” he said.
He said many of the school shootings that have taken place were in gun-free zones.
The bill in Raleigh, Paris said, is to help people in the workplace.
He felt strongly about the issue and sought help from the board to provide the course for teachers.
Josh Van Eseltine, a teacher from Cabarrus County, was referred for the training session through another teacher. It's not the first time Van Eseltine has handled a firearm. In fact, his grandfather ran a shooting range, he said.
The course was a refresher for Van Eseltine on the state laws that pertain to firearms. He recommends everyone be knowledgeable about the laws and handling a firearm, “even if they aren't going to get a concealed carry permit,” he said.
Sharon Gardner, a risk manager for the Rowan-Salisbury School System, has taken a course with Sheriff Kevin Auten and Bob Price, also with the Rowan County Sheriff's Office. She attends church with Paris, who informed her of the course.
Gardner is no stranger to firearms — she hunts pretty regularly with her husband.
“It's important that if you're going to handle a gun — it's important to follow procedures,” she said.
Jennifer Brink, a Erwin Middle School teacher, has handled a firearm before. Her husband also owns several firearms, and he has encouraged her to take safety courses for some time, she said.
“It seemed like the perfect opportunity,” Brink said.
For more information about firearms training and safety, contact Paris at www.parisfirearmstraining.com or Gary Steeley at www.concealnc.com or Steve Karriker at firstname.lastname@example.org.