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Lawmaker: Allow trained school staff to store guns on campus

Giving trained schoolteachers and staff access to firearms in storage lockers is a way to secure campuses when it isn’t possible to provide resource officers, a state lawmaker contends.

“The danger in our schools is an issue that isn’t going to go away unless we do something about it,” said Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista. “Arming our teachers is the best option at this point.”

Stevens authored HB 2412, which would allow a person to possess a deadly weapon on school grounds if he or she has completed training outlined in the bill and has been designated to do so by a school district or charter school governing board.

Dubbed the School Safety Designee Program, it would be optional for public or private schools.

It’s currently against state law to have a firearm on a school campus unless the person is a law enforcement officer or has special permission.

The bill won an endorsement Feb. 26 from the House Appropriations Committee, with all three Democrats present voting against it. It was awaiting action on the House floor.

Stevens noted that the National Rifle Association proposed the idea in response to tragedies such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as a less-expensive alternative to putting resource officers in every school. He said a similar bill he introduced last year failed because it wouldn’t have provided special training.

Attorney General Tom Horne, who proposed the change in Arizona, called the program a “golden mean” between allowing teachers to carry firearms and hiring resource officers for all schools.

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“At least the students and staff won’t be sitting ducks if a maniac comes into the school,” he said.

Stevens noted that the Sierra Vista Unified School District has three resource officers for six elementary schools as well as its middle school and high school campuses. One officer is at Buena High School every day, while the others travel among schools as needed.

“If something bad happened, how long would it take for the officer to get there?” Stevens said. “If a teacher is trained with a firearm, they will be quicker to respond.”

Candidates would receive training on how to clean, handle and store firearms, would take courses in marksmanship, judgmental shooting and other subjects and would be conditioned on how to use deadly force. They would have to repeat the training every year.

The Attorney General’s Office would establish the standards for candidates and oversee certification.

The firearms would have to be stored in secure lockers and could only be removed from school grounds for training, cleaning and maintenance.

Both the Arizona School Board Association and the Arizona Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, registered as opposed to the bill. While neither organization explained its position to the committee, Horne said the Arizona School Boards Association indicated that it might support a bill applying only to rural schools a certain distance from the nearest police station.

Kent Scribner, superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District, said in an interview that he opposes introducing more guns on campus.

“Trained and sworn officers should be the only ones ensuring our security,” said Scribner, who oversees more 27,000 students on 16 campuses.

The district recently held a community forum on safety after shots were fired outside Cesar Chavez High School during an evening basketball game. No one was hurt or arrested.

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Elgin Nelson, whose son attends Betty H. Fairfax High School, was at the forum. He said the last thing his neighborhood or the state needs is more access to guns.

“They allow this Wild, Wild West,” Nelson said. “It’s particularly irresponsible on the part of our state Legislature.”

Rep. Andrew Sherwood, D-Tempe, who voted against the bill, said his office was inundated with calls from concerned community members.

“I am frustrated because I think we can do better,” Sherwood said. “There is no proof guns in schools make it safer. We were elected to create jobs, but instead we are talking about guns again.”

Reps. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson, and Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, also voted against the bill.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill is a defense against maniacs.

“I have no doubt this bill is going to help Arizona and will pass,” he said. “A lot of kids are going to die if there isn’t someone in that school to protect them.”

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1 comment on this story

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4 comments
Mar 4, 2014, 4:34 am
-0 +0

I’m on the fence about this. I once worked at a very rural school and we often had illegals come on the campus wanting to use the phone. I’ll not admit to any illegal act here but in each case they were turned away with no problem. The nearest law enforcement was at least twenty minutes away….on a good day. I am a well trained & highly skilled retired military marksman with a lot of previously intense training behind me.
It is this same background that gives me concern about this proposed legislation. If a highly trained SWAT team can fire 71 rounds into the confined space of a home with only 26 body hits with the remaining rounds penetrating walls and other nearby buildings I have graves concern how a CCW trained adult would react to such a stressful situation as confronting a rampaging gunman.
Okay, a bit grammatically incorrect but the gist of this is the cure has the potential for being just as tragic as the problem it is intended to resolve.

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Nicole Gilbert/Cronkite News Service

Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, shown in a file photo, wants to allow trained school employees to store a firearm on campus to protect against an attack such as the one that occurred in Newtown, Conn.

Proposed training

  • School employees approved for the School Safety Designee Program would have to get more than 24 hours of training each year in subjects including the following:
  • Weapon care and maintenance
  • Safe handling and storage of firearms
  • Marksmanship
  • Judgmental shooting
  • Scenario and force-on-force training
  • Mental conditioning for the use of deadly force
  • Legal ramifications of using deadly force
  • Collaboration with local law enforcement