Ariz. AG, lawmaker want to arm school employees

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- School teachers who undergo special training would be allowed to have a gun in a locked area of a school, including their classroom, under a bill being pushed by a Republican lawmaker and Attorney General Tom Horne.

Rep. David Stevens said Monday that his bill is voluntary for school districts and allows them to designate any employee to receive weapons training and keep them in a classroom lockbox or other secured spot on campuses. That includes teachers, principals or even school maintenance staff.

Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said the training provisions and the voluntary nature of the proposed law gives school districts a way to add to security in case an incident that threatens children happens.

"It's something that school districts can use if they want to allow the schools to be defended," Stevens said.

The bill is the latest in a series of proposals to tighten school security after a gunman killed 20 first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December.

Horne said if the principal of Sandy Hook had a gun things might have turned out differently.

“If she had been trained in the use of a gun and had had one she could've shot him and reduced the number of kids that would have been killed and probably saved her own life,” Horne said.

Horne said district employees would go through a free 24-hour training course run by his investigators, giving them training in stopping a deranged gunman, for example. Horne said Monday that he would love to have a sworn law enforcement officer on every school campus, but there's not enough money to do so.

When asked if the 24-hour course is enough training, Horne told 3TV, “It might not be; the bill provides that as a minimum. We might decide to provide more.”

Rep. Steve Gallardo doesn't like the idea, even though it would be voluntary -- not mandatory -- at the schools.

“The idea that we're going to open the doors to firearms is ludicrous," the Democrat said. "Parents don't want it. Schools don't want it.  Why are we pushing this type of crazy legislation?”

On Monday 3TV reached out to State Superintendent John Huppenthal’s office, but because of the Presidents' Day holiday no one was available to comment on the proposed bill.

"This is the second line of defense, because there won't be enough money for police officers in all of the schools," Horne said. "I would consider that the best solution, but mine is the second best solution."

The bill introduced by Stevens expands a proposal Horne floated just after the Connecticut shooting. In that proposal, he said one person per school would be armed.

Stevens' proposal puts no limits on the number who can be armed at each school.

The proposal was criticized by the president of the state educators union, who said 24 hours of training isn't enough to allow armed people on campus. The only guns allowed on campus should be in the hands of trained school resource officers or other law-enforcement personnel.

"The school resource officer program is the acceptable way to put a gun on campus," Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill said. "Not what can we afford, or drive through the Legislature."

Morrill said if lawmakers were serious about school safety, they'd be embracing more money for resource officers, restoring school counselors cut by the state during recent tight budget years and adding money to mental health programs.

"The state should be an eager and willing investor in that to match the rhetoric we've heard since Sandy Hook," Morrill said. "Anything else falls short."

Democrats are pushing a proposal that would triple the number of school resource officers, add money for mental health treatment and more school counselors and require background checks on all buyers at gun shows, among other items. It's not expected to get much traction in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

When asked about his position on closing Arizona’s gun show loophole that allows the sale of guns at a show without a background check, Horne said, “I haven’t taken a position.  I think it’s out of my jurisdiction.”

On Tuesday, Horne, Stevens and a group of Arizona educators will hold a press conference outlining the specifics of the bill.