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Posted Feb 19, 2013, 8:57 pm
Allowing a gun in a capable educator’s hands at Arizona schools would be a “common-sense approach” to safeguarding students and staff, a state lawmaker said Tuesday.
“When a parent drops a child off at school, there is a reasonable expectation that the child will be safe,” said Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista.
Stevens joined Attorney General Tom Horne at a news conference announcing legislation based on an idea Horne proposed following the December tragedy in Newtown, Conn. HB 2656 would allow a designated school employee to be trained to carry a firearm and possess it on campus.
Horne said taking no steps to defend schools would be regrettable if an incident occurs and students or teachers die.
“If a bad guy gets into the school with a gun … somebody is there with a gun to put a stop to it,” he said.
The bill would allow schools districts to decide whether to opt in, and the approved employee would go through a three-day training program with the Attorney General’s Office and the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
Horne said the ideal educator to take on this responsibility is, when possible, one with a police or military background. The whereabouts of the gun and the identity of its handler would remain a secret at each school, he said.
Horne acknowledged that potentially deadly situations at schools are “one in a million” occurrences, but he added that the response to such a random situation can improve if an educator is prepared.
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He and Stevens said this person would ideally play a defensive role rather than tracking down an assailant.
Substitute teacher Teresa Ottesen Binder, who addressed the news conference, said she has spoken with dozens of Arizona teachers who support carrying firearms at schools, particularly in rural districts.
“For some of these schools, it’s going to take 20 to 30 minutes to get a police officer or a SWAT team or anybody there on campus,” she said.
Retired English teacher Suzanne Jordan, who taught at Washington High School in Phoenix, said teachers and students are “sitting ducks.”
“People feel free to go to schools because they know nobody has a gun on campus,” she said.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, who has proposed nine bills aimed at boosting school safety, called the approach in Stevens’ legislation unrealistic.
“What happens the first time one of these teachers accidentally shoots a kid, or another teacher, or a parent, or a cop who has responded to a call?” he said.
Campbell’s bills, none of which has received a committee hearing, include requiring background checks for all gun purchases, increasing the number of school resource officers, boosting funding for mental health services and helping schools upgrade security systems.
In a news release posted on its website, the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said it opposes sanctioning anyone but law enforcement professionals to carry firearms in schools.
“The answer to reducing violence on our schools cannot be to increase the number of guns on campuses,” said the statement, which was attributed to AEA President Andrew Morrill.