SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Hundreds of people are expected to march to the Utah state Capitol in separate protests aimed at improving school safety — in very different ways.
Pro-gun marchers will advocate Saturday for fortified schools and more armed teachers, while Utah students will take to the street as part of rallies being held around the country to urge lawmakers to pass gun regulations.
Police will monitor the marches in Utah and believe the two groups will avoid confrontations based on conversations with organizers, said Salt Lake City police detective Matt Roper.
The rallies in Salt Lake City come 10 days after thousands of students held walkouts to protest gun violence and honor the 17 people killed in the Florida school shooting.
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“We’re not anti-gun, but we think some guns shouldn’t be in the hands of civilians,” Natalie Reese an 18-year-old senior at Orem High School. “Military-style assault rifles should only be used by the military.”
Reese, one of about a dozen student organizers, said protesters also plan to call on lawmakers to do more in-depth background checks for gun sales and require such checks for gun sales between individuals and at events.
Meanwhile, the pro-gun marchers will hold a rally along the same route taken by the students an hour earlier.
Organizer Bryan Melchior, co-owner of the Utah Gun Exchange, said his organization wants to bring attention to its “EduCarry” program that is aimed at improving school safety and helping more teachers get concealed carry permits and training on surviving active shooter scenarios.
Utah is among at least eight states that allow or don’t specifically prohibit concealed weapons in K-12 schools.
Melchior said he knows Utah state leaders are brainstorming ways to improve school safety, but he said he doesn’t trust government officials to get things done quickly.
“We’ll be fortifying the schools while the politicians are talking,” he said.
More than 850 educators participated in a free concealed carry permit class his organization gave earlier this month, Melchior said. He expects about 1,000 at the next class in April.