With a concealed gun in class, why a teacher believes he can stop a school massacre

With a concealed gun in class, why a teacher believes he can stop a school massacre

With a concealed gun in class, why a teacher believes he can stop a school massacre

Updated 19 March 2018, 16:45 AEDT

Cavett Eaton has thought long and hard about how he would confront a school shooter with the concealed pistol he carries into class each day.

Cavett Eaton has often thought about how he would confront a school shooter, using only the concealed pistol he carries into the classroom each day.

One thing he knows for sure is he would need to get up close.

"My chances at a distance won't be that great," he said.

"But once I start getting [the shooter's] attention, they are not going to focus on the kids anymore.

"I'm fine if they shoot at me."

It's a school night in suburban Salt Lake City and the softly spoken high school teacher is sitting on the lounge in his home.

Mr Eaton's wife and daughter-in-law are preparing dinner for his three-year-old twin grandsons in the kitchen.

We ask to see the gun he takes into the classroom, but he declines. He doesn't want to "glorify" it.

Carrying a gun to school is a "burden" for a teacher, Mr Eaton said, and not one he bears lightly.

"The reason I carry a gun to school is because I recognise there is a potential for danger and a potential for death in my school."

Such is the life of a teacher in America, where the possibility of being caught up in a mass shooting is very real.

Teachers with guns

As a lifelong gun user and an NRA instructor, Mr Eaton argued he may be able to make a difference if an intruder with a gun were to enter his school.

"If I didn't have a firearm, I would still go after the shooter," he said.

"I would still try to stop them and many teachers in school massacres have had that same feeling and unfortunately have lost their lives in the process.

"I intend to come home at the end of the day."

While President Donald Trump has triggered a furious debate about the risks and benefits of arming teachers nationwide, Utah has been allowing it for about a decade.

Utah's gun-friendly laws mean hundreds of thousands of people carry concealed pistols.

Mr Eaton is one of an unknown number of teachers in the state who carry a gun to school, under laws that mean they don't have to tell anyone they're carrying a weapon if they have a permit.

Since the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many teachers have come out strongly against the suggestion that they carry weapons into the classroom.

Many of the students who are campaigning for gun reform have also voiced opposition.

'A recipe for disaster'

Even here in ultra-conservative Utah, students are mobilising.

Among them is Matthew Davis, who has been shooting guns since childhood but has now changed his stance.

He says he had no idea teachers may have been carrying concealed weapons when he was at school.

He's also sceptical a teacher with a small handgun could stop a mass shooter typically armed with an high-powered rifle.

"If I only had a pistol and I was going against an AR15, I'd have to be a lot closer than he would have to be in order to get him," Matthew said.

"I'd have to know where he is, where he can see me, and know when I can move.

"And with the AR, I feel like at any point — no matter where I am in that school — he probably could get me."

Matthew opposes teachers having guns in the classroom, but suggests ramping up police presence on campus instead.

"Arming teachers is a recipe for disaster," he said.

"You need to make sure there's no-one else in the line of fire you could hit apart from the shooter, and in a big situation like that, that's never going to happen.

"They're almost always going to have the potential to hit someone who's not the shooter."

Matthew is among a group of students in Salt Lake City mobilising people to rally for the national March for Life, for gun control, this weekend.

Elizabeth Love is another.

She is aware teachers in her school are already carrying guns, and doesn't like it.

"Knowing that a gun is there is scarier," Elizabeth said. "I don't think by giving a teacher a gun that they would be ready to stare down the barrel of an AR15."

But there are differences of opinion even among students.

Eighteen-year-old high schooler Terry Baton, who has his own AR15 and has been shooting since he was a young child, feels reassured by it.

"I find it comforting," he said. "I just feel like they're prepared."

Cavett Eaton is keenly aware some parents, and students, do not support his stance.

"I have parents who [have] my lifestyle, my preferences and have asked me to look out for their kids," he said.

"On the other hand, I've had parents who've made comments like, 'We need to get every gun out of this city'."

Firearm training

At a Salt Lake City gun shop, Cavett Eaton's son Adam takes a gun from out of a cabinet — a small handgun in a leather holster.

This is the type of weapon a teacher is likely to take into the classroom, he explained.

Adam runs the gun shop and has trained about 400 teachers how to use a firearm.

"Nobody's forcing these guys. Nobody's saying, all you teachers, you have to do this," he said.

"And I don't think they should all have to do this.

"It's just like the rest of society — some people should, some people can handle it, some people can't."

Adam Eaton has four children and supports their teachers having guns, with the right training.

"Who else is better to kind of have an eye and be able to protect my kids if something happens?" he said.

"I'm not asking teachers to turn into a commando and go run through the school and take care of business. No, I just want my teacher to put up opposition if something does happen, and keep my kids safe."

Opposing gun reform

Since the Parkland shooting, there's been a renewed focus on school safety across the US.

Schools have been holding lockdown and active-shooter drills. Some have upgraded on-site security systems.

Congress passed a rare bipartisan bill to fund training in schools to try to prevent gun violence before it happens.

Unsurprisingly, the prospects for comprehensive gun reform have stalled.

Adam Eaton says any attempt to ban semi-automatic weapons wouldn't work.

"I think it's a great theory but I don't think it's a realistic possibility," he said.

"There are a lot of guns in this country. And there are a lot of people that will die before you take away their gun or impound their gun."

His father says banning guns is, "not going to slow down anything".

"I think the damage has been done with these kids because of the parental problems — fatherless children, media exposure, lack of navigation through the media exposure.

"There's a lot of things we can do as a society that really miss the boat. One of my goals is to get back in with those kids."

For now, he'll continue wearing his handgun into the classroom, ready to reach for it if the unthinkable happens.

"If no-one is in the school to stop the shooter until someone comes in, or until someone is outside and waits for four minutes, what hope do [the students] have?"