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FARMINGTON — A group of protesters gathered at the Farmington Municipal School District's central office this morning to protest gun violence and advocate for trained teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools.

Holly Gregory, a substance abuse counselor and a substitute teacher for Bloomfield Municipal Schools, organized the protest and said she was inspired to act after the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left as many as 17 students dead and 14 injured.

Gregory said the incident has opened "a sore wound for our community” from the Aztec High School shooting that left two students and a 21-year-old shooter dead.

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“I feel like after we’ve had time to heal (from the Aztec shooting), it’s time to take a stand,” Gregory said, adding that “when someone comes on a school campus with a gun and intent to kill and destroy students, they’re declaring war on that school, and they should be met with fire.”

Gregory said advocates are planning more protests in Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as making steps to try to work with Four Corners school administrations on policies that would allow trained teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools and act as “reserve deputies," among other safety measures and practices. 

Aztec School District Superintendent Kirk Carpenter said though armed teachers could serve as a deterrent for potential attackers, “there’s way too many risks on the other side” to justify arming school staff.

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Carpenter said concealed carry in schools would place "huge" burdens and pressures on school staff, could create an opportunity of a weapon “getting into the wrong hands” on campuses, and has the potential to inadvertently thwart emergency response in the case of an attack through creating confusion on who is “the bad guy.”

“We don’t bring police to teach algebra, so let’s not ask our teachers to be SWAT,” Carpenter said, adding that “we need more security on our campuses. If it’s armed security or police, then let’s arm those people that are specialized in how to deal with violence and keeping security on campus. … Conceal and carry doesn’t make somebody an expert in how to deal with school shootings and those kind of people (who inflict violence). Let’s train the experts and let them be experts, and let’s keep our teachers experts in the classrooms.”

Cynthia Mortensen, who is ex-military and a former police officer who teaches English at Aztec High School, is involved in the conceal carry campaign. She said that the role of teacher becomes a second priority in a situation like a school shooting.

“When there was a gunman on campus, the only thing I was thinking of as I was behind that door was if he were to come and breach this door, we’ve got scissors, we’ve got a stick, we’ve got books to prevent an attack,” Mortensen said. “We were coming up with all these plans with what we could do, but ultimately, it would have been better — if he were to breach that door — if I could have shot him before he had hurt the kids. … For any administrator or board member or anyone in the district to say, ‘I just want teachers to be teachers,’ you know what, he hasn’t been in a situation behind doors with kids and bullets flying. I stopped being a teacher when I had to be a human shield for those kids that day.”

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San Juan County Undersheriff Shane Ferrari, who is running against Tommy Bolack for sheriff, said society has changed and that schools, law enforcement and communities “need to evolve” and respond to gun violence in schools.

“I think we need a short-term and long-term plan,” Ferrari said, mentioning mental health care and stricter school security infrastructure, including armed guards. “If in the short-term plan, it requires arming and training our teachers, then we’re a proponent for it.”

Ferrari said if school staff were to carry concealed weapons in schools, he would want to see consistent and realistic training that could include marksmanship, firearms training, tactics and weapons retention, and though the decision is left to local school boards, the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office is “willing to help with that training.”

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Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said he would want FPD to be heavily involved in a conceal carry program, including training and policy development, if Farmington schools allowed staff to carry concealed weapons. He called it “a complex topic.”

“We would really want to look hard and make sure that we’re both going in same direction,” Hebbe said, citing concerns similar to Carpenter’s in terms of the potential of inadvertently interfering with police response and what he called “friendly fire errors.”

“Conceptually, I can see it,” he continued. “I don’t have a problem with it but there’d be so many of those details on if it’s going to make a police response more complex and difficult. Those would be the things I would want to work with the school district on.”

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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