By Laura Zuckerman
(Reuters) - Kasey Hansen, a special education teacher from Salt Lake City, Utah, says she would take a bullet for any of her students, but if faced with a gunman threatening her class, she would rather be able to shoot back.
On Thursday, she was one of 200 Utah teachers who flocked to an indoor sports arena for free instruction in the handling of firearms by gun activists who say armed educators might have a chance at thwarting deadly shooting rampages in their schools.
The event was organized by the Utah Shooting Sports Council in response to the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, this month that killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The council said it has typically attracted about 16 teachers each year to its concealed carry training courses. But Thursday's event near Salt Lake City, organized especially for educators in the aftermath of Newtown, drew interest from hundreds, and the class was capped at 200 for space limitations.
"I feel like I would take a bullet for any student in the school district," Hansen, a special education teacher in a Salt Lake City school district, told Reuters after the training session.
"If we should ever face a shooter like the one in Connecticut, I'm fully prepared to respond with my firearm," she said, adding that she planned to buy a weapon soon and take it to work.
The Newtown massacre reignited a national debate over gun safety. President Barack Obama signaled his support for reinstating a national ban on assault-style rifles and urged Congress to act. The National Rifle Association has called for posting armed guards at schools and rejected new gun-control measures.
'HOW DO I KEEP A GUN SAFE?'
The National Education Association and a number of school officials criticized the NRA's stance, but it got a warmer reception in some parts of the West, where hunting and guns are prevalent.
Utah is one of a handful of states that allows people with concealed-carry licenses to take their weapons onto school property, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Arizona, Attorney General Tom Horne on Wednesday jumped into the debate over school security with a proposal to allow any school to train and arm its principal or another staff member.
The plan, which was backed by at least three sheriffs, would require approval by the legislature and the state's Republican governor, Jan Brewer.
Clark Aposhian, head of the Utah Shooting Sports Council and a certified firearms instructor, organized the event on Thursday to provide teachers with permits to allow them to carry concealed handguns in the classroom. He waived the usual $50 fee for the course.
"I genuinely felt depressed at how helpless those teachers were and those children were in Newtown," Aposhian said. "It doesn't have to be that way."
Utah teacher Kerrie Anderson was not about to participate. She is a choir and math instructor at a junior high school near Salt Lake City, and said her family is "pro-gun" and uses firearms for sports such as target shooting. But she balks at the notion of carrying a weapon into her classroom.
"How would I keep that gun safe?" she said. "I wouldn't carry (it) on my person while teaching, where a disgruntled student could overpower me and take it. And if I have it secured in my office, it might not be a viable form of protection."
Gun-control activists have decried moves to arm teachers and said efforts at curbing gun violence in schools should be tied to tightening firearms laws.
"We think it makes a lot more sense to prevent a school shooter from getting the gun in the first place," said Kristen Rand, legislative director for the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary ranks as the second most deadly school shooting in U.S. history. Police say Adam Lanza, 20, killed his mother before going to the school, where he committed the massacre and shot himself to death.
(Reporting and writing by Laura Zuckerman; Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman)