Following last month's fatal shooting at a Connecticut elementary school, gun ranges throughout Palm Beach County -- and the country -- are reporting an increase in teachers coming in for gun training and concealed weapons permits.
Some may see it as an unorthodox response to the Sandy Hook tragedy, given that Florida law still bars teachers and others from carrying firearms on school grounds. But local gun shops say the uptick is a natural response.
"With that tragic incident, I think there's a lot of people that are scared," said Joe Rice, a manager at the Palm Beach Shooting Center in Lake Worth.
The indoor gun range and store has begun offering free concealed weapons classes -- normally $75 -- to teachers who bring in their school IDs.
"After the tragic incident a couple of weeks ago, we saw somewhere in the news that another shop in Texas was offering (free classes to teachers), so we decided to offer the same thing," Rice said.
Already more than 20 teachers have taken advantage of the deal, he said. Some were experienced shooters motivated by the free offer, but the majority were first-timers. And some, he said, referenced the Sandy Hook shooting as a reason they came in.
It's understandable why gun ranges may be seeing an uptick in the numbers of teachers coming in, said Palm Beach County School Board member Jenny Prior Brown.
"It's frightening to be a member of a profession that's just been attacked," Brown said. "It is a terrible feeling to feel helpless. Is it surprising they would go and get firearms even if they can't bring them on school property? No."
Florida state law prohibits people from carrying firearms on school property, with few exceptions. The Palm Beach County School District further says that firearms are not allowed in vehicles parked on any school property, or at any school-sanctioned event.
But in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, some, including some legislators across the country, have suggested that allowing teachers to carry weapons is a discussion worth having.
On Saturday, teacher Rama Holtzman donned safety glasses and ear protection, and spent one of his last days of winter break at the Palm Beach Shooting Center to take his first turn at holding and using a gun.
"Have you ever shot before?" asked Chuck Papp, an instructor.
Holtzman shook his head no.
But within minutes,the fifth-grade teacher at South Grade Elementary in Lake Worth had made several clean shots through a target -- including one shot on the bull's-eye -- and had qualified for his concealed weapons permit.
Holtzman said he's been interested for a while now in learning how to shoot, but said the Connecticut shooting "expedited my decision ... to learn how to handle a gun."
If he turns in all his paperwork, Holtzman will join more than 1 million Floridians with concealed weapons permits.
But Holtzman said he's not sure he'll end up buying a gun. He's also not sure how he feels about teachers being allowed to carry weapons on campus.
"I'm not necessarily against the idea of teachers having guns in the classroom," Holtzman said. "I wouldn't do it because it seems a bit outrageous to me."
Others feel differently.
The Delray Shooting Center is looking into the possibility of opening up its classrooms to the Armed Teacher Training Program, a free class being offered by the Buckeye Firearms Association in Ohio.
More than 600 teachers in multiple states, including Florida, have expressed interest in the class, according to a press release from the association.
The class will go over not only the fundamentals of shooting and marksmanship but will also teach some first-aid skills and will help teachers "change their mind-set" about being able to fight back, said Jim Irvine, one of the founders of the association.
"We've had a wealth of requests over the country to share the curriculum and what we're doing," Irvine said, although he added that the association is still "working through things" before it holds its first class.
In the meantime, the Delray center is seeing an increase in teachers coming in.
"I think it has to do with Sandy Hook," said Mike Caruso Jr., the owner's son. He said he's seen a growth in the number of people coming in overall, but that he's especially noticed more teachers coming in.
"That always happens after a mass shooting," he said. "After the Aurora shooting, it was the same thing."
Indeed, sales at gun stores spiked across the nation following the Dec. 14 Connecticut shooting.
Florida set a record for gun purchases last year, with December setting a record for highest number of background checks for guns in a single month, according to numbers from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
While the idea of teachers carrying firearms continues to be debated as the new year starts, Palm Beach Shooting Center employee Johnpaul Parkerson has his mind made up.
"Think of the poor teacher of Sandy Hook. She shielded those kids with her body," Parkerson said. "What if she had had a weapon? I'd rather be alive and deal with the consequences later of having a gun with me at school."
(c)2013 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.)
Visit The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.) at www.palmbeachpost.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.