Handgun at school fundraiser a potential political firebomb – The Durango Herald

Concealed Carry

How about a handgun as a silent auction item at a school fundraiser?

The Lewis-Arriola Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization is planning to have an image of a 9 mm Taurus handgun at the silent auction at its annual Hoedown on April 29 at the Lewis-Arriola Community Center.

Around Cortez, we’re hearing strong, mixed reactions. From accusations of tone-deaf PTO members not understanding teachers’ needs and what were they thinking to what’s the big deal? This is a Second Amendment-strong community.

Reactions depend on how you gauge the temperature in the U.S. around guns and school shootings. Whether these are two separate – or inseparable – subjects. Whether this firearm inflames feelings about insensitivity to the climate and concerns for safety, or rural culture and the right to carry. What this gun represents and, in the context of a school fundraiser, what this message says.

Someone inside – or outside – this community could easily make this into a political statement. That’s one risk. An NRA lobbyist or supporter could throw down real money – more than what the gun is worth – to make a point.

Legally, nothing prevents this gun from being in the auction, according to the PTO’s bylaws. And the PTO is not under the purview of the Montezuma-Cortez School District. The reasoning is within the limits of law, and could be argued in a courtroom. But should it be?

A new testing ground, parents will have to sort out nuances and make distinctions.

Some backstory. A lifelong resident of Cortez, Morgan Head, co-president of the PTO, and her family have a family farm, complete with baby goats and a baby lamb “that is always hungry.” According to Head, a parent went to the group in February and asked to approach a local business about donating a gun to the Hoedown. It would be a 9 mm Taurus that retails $500 to $600. The group of six parents, two staffers and three PTO officers agreed, yes, the handgun was a good money-maker.

Three months later, a teacher and a parent voiced concern. The PTO compromised with an additional safety package to include a trigger lock, a concealed carry course, a locking pistol safe, and eye and ear protection.

The group told the teacher and parent this was a big topic with varying views. “We did say the door was open and we would discuss further at our May PTO meeting,” Head said. The PTO will also research other bylaws for fundraising donations. What could – and couldn’t – be accepted.

The actual gun will not be at the event.

Money raised goes, for example, to a generous teacher appreciation week, where teachers previously received local gift cards, massages and all-out lovely lunches. The PTO also gave each teacher $500 for classroom use and $250 each for “special” departments,” including physical education, the library and reading intervention.

Head understands the anxiety about a gun at a school fundraiser, even if the PTO is separate from the school. And the Hoedown is off campus.

Her biggest concern, though, is continued PTO participation from parents. Head acknowledged a “narrow view” coming from a small group, “if people aren’t stepping up.” She’d like to see more people attending monthly meetings, where they can help make decisions.

“We want to do the best we can for our students,” Head said. “We are respectful of other people’s opinions.”

And what if teachers want bulletproof glass?

Deanna Bagge’s two children attended Cortez schools. Bagge was an involved parent for more than 20 years, serving on multiple committees, including the PTO at Mesa Elementary School.

Bagge, a gun owner, lives on some acreage in the Cortez area. Her son’s grandpa gave him a hunting rifle, and her children learned gun safety and to shoot targets. For Bagge, a handgun at a school fundraiser is not about the Second Amendment. It’s not about the right to carry.

Instead, it shows a complete lack of respect toward teachers. Supporting teachers means helping them feel safe because many don’t. And this gun isn’t used for hunting.

“It’s disheartening,” Bagge said.

She also feels the PTO could have reached out directly to teachers and asked what they thought, need or want.

Soon after the Nashville school shooting – with a 9 mm as part of the arsenal – Bagge received a text from her daughter, substitute teaching in Moab. The school was locked down. The concern was an active shooter. So this young woman said goodbye to her parents and brother, just in case.

“I love you,” she texted.

Bagge said this was her darkest hour. For 45 minutes, Bagge and family members prayed. And waited.

This situation turned out to be a hoax. But that terrible fear that shook them remains.

“That’s what educators go through,” Bagge said.

We hope the Cortez community can come together to air concerns – quickly. Otherwise, this situation could easily get out and away from them.

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