Arizona unveils school safety strategy

Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey

PHOENIX -- Hoping to corral the votes for his school safety plan, Gov. Doug Ducey has agreed to some changes in key provisions that would allow judges to take away someone’s guns, at least on a temporary basis.

The new version of the bill, formally introduced Wednesday, still allows courts to issue Severe Orders of Protection, authorizing police to seize any weapons while people are evaluated to see if they are a threat to themselves or others. And, depending on a mental health evaluation, those affected could be barred from purchasing or possessing guns.

But Ducey’s original proposal would have allowed someone to be held for up to 48 hours after a judge determines that person is not a danger. SB 1519, set for legislative debate, cuts that it half.

Potentially more significant, the bill spells out that any weapons taken must be released within 24 hours after a person is found not to be a danger, not the 72 hours that was in the original draft.

The version of the bill that now will be debated in the Senate, also does not include some things Ducey had sought.

That includes his desire to deny permits to carry a concealed weapon to anyone who has an outstanding arrest warrant. And Ducey sought to eliminate a provision in existing law that says a person automatically regains the right to own a weapon when a judge sets aside a felony conviction.

Gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato said those provisions proved to be non-starters among some lawmakers.

Still, Ducey may face opposition -- and not just from the Democrats who are unhappy the governor won’t require a background check every time a weapon is sold.

Dave Kopp, lobbyist for the Citizens Defense League, said he’s not convinced the measure is crafted narrowly enough to ensure the law and the STOP orders are applied only in appropriate circumstances.

But Scarpinato said the heart of Ducey’s legislation remains intact, including not just the STOP orders but adding new school resource officers and updating the system which provides information to federally licensed firearms dealers on whether someone is legally entitled to purchase a weapon.

“He’s hopeful that the Legislature will pass it,’’ Scarpinato said, saying it was developed in consultation with various interests, including the education community and law enforcement. “The ideas that they brought forward are reflected in this bill.’’

What’s behind the STOP orders is the belief that many of the mass shootings, including those at school, were committed by people who were known to have behavioral or mental health issues.

That includes not only Nikolas Cruz who gunned down 17 at a Florida high school but also Jared Loughner who killed six and seriously wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in an incident outside a Tucson grocery store in 2011.

Under this plan, any of a host of people could seek a court order to have someone evaluated. That includes family members, significant others and school administrators -- but not teachers who were included in the original proposal.

The initial evaluation requires evidence of things like “a pattern of threats to cause death or serious physical injury,’’ a recent credible threat to kill or injure someone, cruel mistreatment of animals, and a conviction of a violent crime.

Based on that, a judge can order police to pick up the person for an evaluation and take any weapons in plain sight.

Kopp said he has concerns about being able to detain someone and take away that person’s weapons based on a finding of danger to self or others. A more appropriate standard, he said, would be a requirement that a court find the person is “at significant risk of causing death or serious physical injury.’’

Kopp also is reviewing the provisions for how long someone can be held -- and how quickly someone who a court determines is not a danger gets back his or her weapons.

Under SB 1519, he said, once a STOP order is quashed, then the individual can go to the police agency that seized the weapons and ask for them back.

“Well, why is it now on you?’’ Kopp asked.

“The state was quick enough to take your guns away,’’ he said. “Shouldn’t it be on the state to get them back to you?’’

Ducey likely needs the support of virtually all the Republicans in the Legislature as Democrat backing is lacking.

One key issue is a demand by Democrats for universal background checks. Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said it makes no sense to prohibit licensed firearms dealers from selling weapons to someone who is the subject of a STOP order when that same person could buy one from an individual at a gun show.

Ducey has flatly rejected expanded background checks.

Democrats also are lukewarm to the idea of more school resource officers, suggesting the solution to campus violence is not having more people with weapons on school grounds.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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