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Museum of Nature and Weapons: Concealed Carry and School Field Trips

By Monica Fuglei January 13, 2016

How Concealed Carry Affects Field Trips

“We spent a lot of time talking about the museum today,” my daughter announced at dinner last night. “They have guns there now.” Her science class was discussing a recent change to Denver’s Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) safety policy, which allows concealed carry permit holders to bring weapons inside the museum. Because concealed-carry policies often affect public institutions like zoos and museums, schools must be aware of these policies and prepared to address them.

Concealed-carry gun laws affect cultural institutions that serve as field trip destinations

Supporters of concealed carry at the museum felt that the ability to carry a sidearm in public places enhances public safety. Several concealed-carry forums already had discussions about the legal ramifications of carrying weapons in places where school-related field trips are held.

In Colorado and many other states, concealed carry of firearms at school-sponsored functions or by administrators, teachers and chaperones is prohibited. However, the concealed carry permit holders’ right to carry in public spaces is protected. For Colorado residents, this includes cultural facilities with high field-trip activity like the Denver Zoo, the Denver Art Museum and now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Other states, like Texas, have even more permissible laws regarding carrying weapons in public spaces, allowing for open carry except where prohibited by state law. 

Denver Museum of Nature and Science changed its weapons ban ‘to follow the law’

Opponents to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s policy change worry that allowing weapons in the museum, even concealed, will undermine the safety of all museum patrons. In an interview with CBS Denver, DMNS Vice President of Business Operations Ed Scholz said, “I understand there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue and if we had our preference, we’d have no guns ever in the facility, but we have to follow the law.”

On the museum’s Facebook page, parents expressed concern at the combination of concealed weapons and children. Some worried that concealed carriers reacting to an active shooter situation would create a dangerous crossfire scenario. More likely concerns included oversight or carelessness that could result in tragedy. This worry is not unprecedented, as multiple headlines about accidental shootings by young people with unattended weapons can attest.

The Denver Museum of Science and Nature has security guards on staff and should be careful to clearly outline their policy, check permits, and enforce the concealed portion of their concealed carry policy. Meanwhile, while permit holders have a personal right to carry, they should also consider the museum’s articulated desire when deciding whether to bring weapons into the space.

U.S. schools must update safety training to reflect changing gun laws

U.S. laws are trending toward an increased ability to carry firearms — either concealed or in the open — in places including college campuses and, in some states, elementary and secondary schools. Regardless of parental or administrators’ feelings about concealed or open carry laws, it is important for schools to be prepared to take students from gun-free zones into situations with the potential to expose them to weapons.

School field trips may soon carry a legal or moral burden of informed consent and call for safety discussions and training with administrators, teachers, chaperones and students. Additionally, schools should be prepared to handle parental pushback as parents struggle with conflicted feelings about sending their children to public spaces that may contain concealed weapons.  

New reality: Parents prepare children for field trips with safety discussions about guns

Our family is torn in our reaction to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science’s new policy. The shift in rules certainly does not make me feel safer as a DMNS member, nor does it inspire confidence as I send my children there on field trips.

Next Tuesday, my son takes a field trip to the museum. His school has shared nothing about the significant change in DMNS safety regulations and how that might affect the students. As a family who has been touched by gun violence living in a state that has experienced multiple mass shootings, our preparation for his trip to the museum will include a safety discussion on guns — from what to do if you see one to how to react if there is a shooting.

While we have had similar conversations before, I’d much rather that our son’s preparation for his trip to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science focus on whether he wants to spend time in the planetarium or the dinosaur exhibit. Despite my certainty that educators feel similarly, it is essential for them to keep an eye on changes to gun policies and adjust their field trip preparations accordingly.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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