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Utah Rep. Ryan Wilcox is advocating for armed security in every school

Utah state Rep. Ryan Wilcox presents his ‘School Security Amendments’ bill to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Nov. 15, 2023. The proposed legislation would require all Utah schools to have at least one armed security personnel.
Saige Miller
/
KUER
Utah state Rep. Ryan Wilcox presents his ‘School Security Amendments’ bill to the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee on Nov. 15, 2023. The proposed legislation would require all Utah schools to have at least one armed security personnel.

State Republican Rep. Ryan Wilcox wants Utah to be better prepared in the event of a school shooting.

As the chair of the Utah School Security Task Force, Wilcox visited states that have experienced school shootings, like Texas and Florida. The task force then compiled a list of recommendations Utah should implement to prevent school shootings and protect students if one does occur.

His draft legislation, titled “School Security Amendments,” would mandate the procedures outlined by the task force.

At the top of the list is a requirement for armed security in all Utah schools. Each public, private and charter school would need to have at least one of the following: a school resource officer, a contracted armed security guard or a volunteer school guardian — meaning someone already employed at the school who is licensed to carry a firearm.

“The whole intent of this piece is to make sure that if somebody cites the threat in their Utah school, there's any number of folks that are prepared to make sure that they aren't able to hurt anybody,” Wilcox said during the Nov. 15 Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee meeting.

To him, hiring “trained armed security” who knows “every nook and cranny” of the school is the best form of protection in the event of a shooting. The school guardian would undergo at least 84 hours of “firearms, de-escalation, basic trauma, first aid and school security training.” School resource officers and security guards already have to complete the training before working in a Utah school.

Democratic Sen. Kathleen Riebe, who is also a candidate in the 2nd Congressional District special election and a school teacher, asked if the identity of the guardian would be made public because there is an expectation of “transparency and an obligation to be open and have that for parents.”

While he was open to discussion about it, Wilcox noted “It would be smart of us to not say who that is or how many there are at a given school.”

“I want them [a potential school shooter] to wonder in the back of their minds, is there a dozen at this one or is there one?”

The committee voted to forward the bill for consideration in the upcoming 2024 Utah Legislative Session, but it was not unanimous. Citing concerns about effectiveness, Democratic Rep. Angela Romero was the only member who voted against it.

“I just don't think putting more guns in schools is going to solve the issue that we have with mass shootings,” she said.

The House Minority Leader said Utah has some of the loosest gun laws in the country, and it’s worrisome how easily someone could access a firearm. Instead of having more armed staff members in schools, she questioned what other measures the state is taking to prevent school shootings.

On top of armed security, the bill would require schools to undergo a safety evaluation, which would identify security risks such as doors not locking properly. While Utah hasn’t experienced a school shooting, elected officials are still worried. Following the 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Gov. Spencer Cox said the “odds are that [a school shooting] will happen here.”

“And I'm probably going to have to be the one to stand in front of those parents and look them in the eye,” Cox said. “It's going to be devastating if I can't in good faith say we tried to do something.”

Romero said she could change her mind on the legislation, but she wants to speak with Wilcox about her concerns and with her student constituents about how they feel about the proposal.

Republican state Sen. Keith Grover said the bill is a “huge leap” forward to protect students.

“I just feel this clock ticking and we just need to get moving,” he said. “Hopefully it's not going to happen, but we just don't know.”

Saige is a politics reporter and co-host of KUER's State Street politics podcast
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