Just 135 students attend school in Meeteetse, a rural community in northwest Wyoming that’s still home to hitching posts, a wooden boardwalk and a watering hole where the owner boasts of the bullet holes in his walls.
The school district, Park County 16, consists of just one campus with three buildings off the main drag. The nearest sheriff’s office is 30 miles away. Two deputies live in town but they’re not always on duty. And even when they are working, sometimes they’re away from Meeteetse, said Jay Curtis, the school district’s superintendent.
After the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut five years ago, where a man shot and killed 20 students and six adults, Curtis began thinking about how vulnerable students are in Meeteetse if the school was under siege.
“It’s just a situation where you feel helpless,” Curtis said. “We’ve looked at ways we could help ourselves. One of the things we discussed is what it would be like if we could arm a few selective people in our building.”
The Wyoming Legislature adopted a measure, House Bill 194, that will allow boards of education, such as the one in Meeteetse, to decide whether to allow employees and volunteers to carry guns.
The School Safety and Security Act, which the Legislature adopted March 1, allows districts to dictate the circumstances under which employees and volunteers would be armed. For instance, school boards can allow guns in some schools and prohibit them in others.
The new law goes into effect July 1.
While the law covers all school districts, its authors were primarily concerned about rural ones, which may be far away from police.
However, not all rural districts plan to allow staff to arm themselves.
Trustees of Fremont County School District 24 in Shoshoni will probably be less inclined to allow guns in school at this time, Superintendent Bruce Thoren said.
After years of no police presence in Shoshoni, the town hired an officer. A Fremont County deputy sheriff also lives in town, although his job frequently calls him away, Thoren said.
Prior to the town hiring a police officer, Thoren would have supported a local option to arm employees and volunteers. But it’s not as needed right now, since there is law enforcement close to the school, he said.
In Shoshoni, one building houses the elementary, junior high and high schools.
“I have reservations about having a staff member with a concealed weapon on them from the perspective of I’ve been through concealed weapons training class, I’ve been through the shoot-don’t shoot weapons class,” he said. “It’s a very stressful situation. It’s also a situation you must practice on.”
“Ideally, I want law enforcement, they have required training. They have to get re-certified (regularly.) They’ve been through classes. They’ve been through shoot-don’t shoot scenarios.”
Law enforcement view
The new law requires boards of education, if they choose to go down the path of arming personnel, to consult with local law enforcement.
Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, said local law enforcement want to be involved as school districts craft policies allowing guns in schools.
“We have raised the concern on that if they choose to arm faculty, (that lawmakers) ensure they have proper training,” he said.
The law requires personnel have 24 hours of training before they can carry.
However, the law also allows district officials to waive training requirements for employees in “isolated rural schools.” It did not define what constitutes such a school.
As Curtis considered the possibility of allowing guns in Meeteetse, he said he’s looked at provisions in school districts outside Wyoming, where guns are already in schools.
In many states, there are prohibitions around the types of weapons and bullets, he said.
For instance, in Texas, district officials have told him they prohibit people from carrying a revolver. Personnel can only carry a semiautomatic with an empty chamber, Curtis said. If for any reason the person and weapon were separated, then the risk of a child firing off the gun would be minimal without a round inside.
Curtis said he hopes that the school board in Meeteetse, if it chooses to allow personnel to be armed, will create such stipulations, such as the type of bullets allowed. For example, it might be advisable to only allow bullets that don’t penetrate walls.
“You don’t have to worry about that bullet going through and hitting a child on the other side of the wall,” he said.