Thu, Jan. 23

New bill would allow schools to have armed employee on campus

PHOENIX -- Saying it will protect students from "maniacal, homicidal' killers, a House panel voted Wednesday to let schools designate one employee at each school to be able to have a gun.

HB 2412 permits a school district to designate a single individual in each building who could bring a weapon to school.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said the legislation would not permit any teacher or other person to actually carry a gun all day. Instead, the weapon would have to be locked up, with the designated person having a key, someone who had gone through 24 hours of training and a background check.

Attorney General Tom Horne told members of the House Appropriations Committee he came up with the idea in the wake of the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed 26 lives.

Horne said he rejected calls by some to allow all teachers to arm themselves.

He said that, as a former board member in the Paradise Valley Unified School District there would be situations all the time where teachers lost keys. That created its own problems with having to re-key the building.

"If somebody lost a gun, that would be pretty bad,' he said.

"But on the other hand, doing nothing also is dangerous,' Horne said. "If some maniac gets into a school and there's no one there with a gun, he can do a lot of damage,' Horne said.

He said that the principal at Sandy Hook tried to stop the killer with her bare hands.

"He killed her,' Horne said. "If she had had a gun, it might have been a different story.'

Horne said having a single trained person in each school -- and leaving the decision to local school boards -- seemed to be a satisfactory compromise.

The measure drew questions from Rep. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson, ranging from the cost of liability insurance to the possibility that a student could take the key from a teacher and gain access to the weapon. And Mach said she believes in "an unassailable truth that more weapons equal more violence.'

But proponents, all Republicans, pushed the measure through the committee, setting the stage for a vote by the full House.

At the heart of the question is what, if anything, Arizona lawmakers should do to keep students safer.

Horne said that if money were no object, the state would put a "school resource officer' in every school, a police officer stationed there not only to protect students but also help out with other safety issues. But Kavanagh said the $300 million price tag on that makes it a political non-starter.

Horne said that leaves it to schools to figure out how best to handle the situation.

The measure drew fire from the Arizona School Boards Association. But lobbyist Janice Palmer said the group would be willing to go along with a program if it were limited to rural schools where police response might be delayed.

Kavanagh scoffed at that suggestion.

"When a wild gunman is chasing your kids, how many minutes do you allow him to have free access to the child?' he asked. Horne echoed the theme, saying that having a police station "even a block away' is no guarantee of a prompt response.

Kavanagh said the proposal is far from unique.

He said Hawaii, New Hampshire and Utah all allow anyone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon to bring it on to school grounds. And he said several other states, including Louisiana and Texas permit teachers, with permission of school officials, to bring their own guns.

"This is not some groundbreaking thing that Arizona is doing,' Kavanagh said. He said a comparison with other states shows "Arizona is well behind the curve in protecting children in situations where maniacal, homicidal armed and dangerous people walk into schools and shoot the schools up.'

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, agreed that guns can keep students safer. He said while there are well publicized reports of mass shootings, the public never hears about "potential mass shootings that were prevented by a law-abiding citizen who happened to have a gun and happened to be nearby.'

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