Champine: Stopping Hoax School Shooting Threats Won’t Save Students


Marco Lozzi

Protestors holding up signs during the March For Our Lives protest at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, April 5, 2023. (Photo by Marco Lozzi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Morgan Champine, Assistant Opinion Editor


On Valentine’s Day this year, Murray High School, which I went to, was under threat from a potential school shooting. It turned out to be just a scare, a fight that may have involved firearms. But events like these have spread across Utah, with a shots-fired incident at Taylorsville High School in January and an influx of school shooting hoax calls from schools in Washington to Box Elder County. Lawmakers say that debriefing reports of hoax calls will help make Utah safer. Instead of solving this crying wolf puzzle, efforts would likely be better placed toward firmer gun control legislation. Dismantling school shooting threats is pointless if nothing is done to stop shootings from happening in the first place.

On March 29, 2023, Utah schools were swarmed with school shooting threats. They were all found to be hoaxes. In response to these events, state Rep. Ryan Wilcox told KSL, “We’re going to be able to leverage [this data] to take care of our students and teachers, our communities.”

Collecting data involves identifying the difference between a true threat and a hoax threat, which can come down to things such as “social media trends,” the number of calls made, or “‘Call of Duty’ speak,” according to Jake Broadhead who works at the Utah Department of Public Safety’s Statewide Information & Analysis Center. This data is important, but it shouldn’t need to be considered in the first place. We must be examining other kinds of legislation and data that Utah lawmakers could focus on to help stop school shootings from being a threat at all.

Sixteen firearm-legislation bills passed during the 2023 legislative session, including H.B. 107 and H.B. 219. H.B. 219 restricts the state from enforcing federal regulations banning firearms, ammunition or accessories. Through the passing of the bill, the Utah legislature has proved again that they care more about the Second Amendment than the safety of schools. H.B. 107 waives the fee for school administrators and teachers to conceal carry firearms.

There is no required instruction for active-shooter threats or safe concealed-carry practices for teachers in Utah. As Sen. Nate Blouin of District 13 and Barbara Gentry, an advocate for gun violence prevention, explained in their article for Deseret News, “The potential for tragedy is obvious.” Lawmakers also introduced a package of bills that require schools to conduct monthly active threat drills, disregarding the fact that if they passed stronger gun control legislation, there would be no need for such drills. There are lives on the line — lives that won’t be saved by a clearer understanding of hoax threats or active shooter drills.

Perhaps the data that our lawmakers should be considering more heavily is other countries’ gun control legislation. The evidence is there: restricting access to firearms clearly shows a major decrease in mass shootings. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, the U.S. has had nearly 400 school shootings. Since the Dunblane shooting in 1996, the U.K. has only had 7. Since 1996, the UK has banned handguns, passed laws that gun owners must be assessed by the police and had multiple national firearm amnesties.

Stricter gun control laws save lives in mass proportions. However, it’s often argued that banning handguns and national amnesties are a step too far in the U.S. There are other, smaller-scale solutions that Utah could implement, such as requiring background checks from private sellers and prohibiting the sale of ammunition machines that hold more than ten rounds. Analyzing hoax shooting threats data will do nothing in the long run, and lawmakers should be focusing their efforts elsewhere.

All across Utah, parents and children worry about attending school each day. The words “shots fired,” “guns” and “shooting threats” pervade everyday vocabulary. The fear hangs over schools like a fog. Students should be focused on learning and extracurriculars, not on what day of the week their monthly active threat drill will be. When a school shooting occurs, many rejoice that it wasn’t their family, their child or their friend. But one day, it just might be.

I will never forget the crippling fear of texting one of my best friends — “I love you, you know that, don’t you?” — because I thought there was a chance I’d never see him again. I’ll never forget watching the parents run inside the daycare, sobbing, to pick up their children. The memory of that fear and dread is something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Our lawmakers owe us more. Instead of teaching law enforcement to identify fake shooting threats, they should cut it off at the source and remove the threat of school shootings entirely.


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