Thu, Jan. 23

Lawmaker wants to allow faculty to carry guns on college campuses

PHOENIX -- Saying it would protect students and staff, a veteran state lawmaker want to let some faculty members carry their weapons onto university and community college campuses.

Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, said existing restrictions in state law keep everyone but police from legally having a gun on campuses. The problem, he said, is that those who want to harm someone else are not going to be deterred by that restriction.

"It's a long-time goal of mine to make sure there are no defense-free zones where criminals know they can go into an establishment and there'll be no law-abiding citizens there that can legally protect themselves,' Harper said.

Harper has had some success in that regards. Most recently, he ushered a measure through the Legislature last year to allow guns in bars and restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages.

And the issue has some resonance: The Senate giving a similar proposal preliminary approval last year, though the final version never made it out of the House.

Harper said that, if he had his way, anyone would be able to carry a gun pretty much anywhere.

SB 1011, however, is more restrictive.

First, it would affect only university and community college campuses. Prior legislative efforts, which also included public schools, proved to be political non-starters.

The right to have a gun on campus also would be limited to those who have a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon. That requires a background check and some training both in the law of when deadly force can be used as well as showing the ability to handle the gun.

Finally, Harper's proposal would extend that right only to faculty members. Existing restrictions would remain for everyone else, from administrators -- including the university or college president -- right through the clerical and support staff.

He said the reason for the narrow exemption is political.

"It's important to start with a bill that you think you can get passed and signed into law, and negotiate it from there,' Harper said. He said starting with broader legislation might please some gun-rights groups could result in it being "stigmatized early on.'

That, Harper said, is precisely what happened when Karen Johnson, then a state senator from Mesa, tried broader legislation to include K-12 school campuses.

The idea is getting a chilly reception from affected schools who just last year had to accept another change in state laws. That one allows anyone to drive onto a campus and leave a weapon in a vehicle, as long as the car or truck is locked and the gun is hidden from plain sight.

"Traditionally, Arizona universities, including Northern Arizona University, have been gun-free,' said spokeswoman Lisa Nelson. "NAU continues to believe that a weapons-free campus constitutes living and learning environment for a university.'

Harper said, though, that also makes those on campus easy targets for any gunman who ignores the law in the first place. He said having faculty members who are trained in the use of firearms could provide a first-line of defense.

But Pima Community College Chancellor Roy Flores said it makes no sense to change the law based on that possibility.

"It seems to me that the likelihood of having a deranged person walk into a specific classroom and pull out a gun and aim it at a faculty member or other people is quite low,' he said, "although it gets a lot of coverage and, of course, generates a lot of passion.' That's what happened in 2002 at the University of Arizona, where three instructors at the College of Nursing were slain by student Robert S. Flores Jr., who then turned the gun on himself.

Flores said, though, he can think of other scenarios where having more guns on campus actually increases the risk.

That's also the assessment of Paul Allvin, Nelson's counterpart at the University of Arizona. He said even if a faculty member is carrying the weapon in a "concealed' fashion, it is likely to become know that person has a gun under a jacket or in a fanny pack.

"It doesn't make it any safer if anybody decides they want to exact violence in an area to try to get that weapon,' Allvin said.

"Now, suddenly, you have a firearm where you didn't have one before, in the middle of a classroom, every day,' he continued. "I can't imaging that this would suddenly make a university a safer place to be.'

And Nelson said what Harper wants will create greater problems for police who respond to an incident.

"The more people that have guns on campus, the harder it is to determine who the shooter is,' she said.

Harper acknowledged that the main focus of the new session which begins Monday will be to balance the current budget and come up with a spending plan for the new fiscal year. But he said that should not stand in the way of considering other measures.

"They call us lawmakers and they send us to treat laws,' he said. "If all we had to do was the budget they'd call us 'appropriators' or 'taxers.'"

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