Ariz. AG: 'It is inexcusable for teachers, students and school staff to be undefended'

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne wants school employees with a certain amount of training to have a gun nearby while on campus.

Horne and Republican Rep. David Stevens of Sierra Vista are pushing a bill that would allow districts, at their discretion, to designate an employee to take a special 24-hour training course for free. After the training, which would be repeated annually, those employees could keep a gun in a classroom lockbox or other secured location on school grounds.

Horne and Stevens introduced their plan for allowing schools to arm specially-trained employees at a news conference Tuesday.

“I believe it is inexcusable for teachers, students and school staff to be undefended,” Horne said. “It would be ideal to have an armed Police Officer in each school. But since budget considerations make that unlikely, the next best solution is to have one person in the school trained to handle firearms, to handle emergency situations, and possessing a firearm in a secure location. This legislation will accomplish that goal, and I am grateful to Representative Stevens for his work to get this introduced at the legislature.”

“Attorney General Horne is to be commended for his leadership on this matter," Stevens said. "The right for people to defend themselves is a cherished part of our constitutional freedoms. School administrators are responsible for the safety of children and they should be able to defend their campuses. This legislation, if signed into law, will be an excellent tool for helping make schools safer.”

Many people question the safety of having guns on campus that are not in the hands of law-enforcement officers. The Arizona Education Association, which is the state's largest professional organization with more than 31,000 members, "opposes firearms on school grounds unless carried by certified police or security officers."

Sitting down with 3TV's Javier Soto just hours before Tuesday morning's announcement, Horne addressed the question of safety.

"The proposal that I've made is safe," he said. "It's meant to be the golden mean between two extremes. One extreme would be to just let any teachers bring guns to school. I think there you have a safety problem …. The other extreme would be to do nothing, which we would regret if an incident occurred like Newtown and we could have prevented it or minimized it and didn't do it.

"This middle way that I propose is to train somebody in every school," Horne continued. "If he's well-trained -- or she's well-trained -- then it's safe because they've learned marksmanship, they've learned good judgment though simulations that are used …. In that situation, it would be safe, and yet there's someone there to stop a shooter if a shooter makes his way into a school."

House Bill 2656, which describes the "optional school safety designee program," explicitly lists 10 topics that would be covered in the training:

  1. legal issues relating to the use of deadly force;
  2. weapon care and maintenance;
  3. mental conditioning for the use of deadly force;
  4. safe handling and storage of weapons
  5. marksmanship;
  6. judgmental shooting;
  7. scenario based training;
  8. force on force training;
  9. familiarity with police active shooter response;
  10. coordination with the local jurisdiction.

Horne came up with this "golden mean between two extremes" in the days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He said the principal at Sandy Hook might have been able save lives had she been armed.

"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 told 3TV's Crystal Cruz Monday evening.

Opponents call the proposed legislation "ludicrous," "ridiculous" and "crazy."

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

Even if the bill is passed into law, it's not mandatory and schools would have to re-up every year.

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

Under Horne's plan, the armed school employee would remain anonymous.

"The parents would know that there is somebody on campus who has been trained and who has a gun, prepared to protect the kids if that's needed," Horne said. "But you don't want people to know who it is because a shooter would go right after that person first."

Horne said the designated employee's gun would be kept away from students, but "readily accessible" to the staffer. He went on to say that a good communication system would be essential.

While the initial idea called for one person per school to be trained and armed, the bill, as proposed, allows schools to designate more than that.

According to a recent poll of Connecticut teachers, only 3 percent of those polled were in favor of guns in schools while 85 percent were against the idea.

"I would agree with the majority of the teachers," Horne replied when Soto asked him about the poll. "You don't want just anybody bringing a gun on campus. My proposal is to get somebody well-trained. If you asked them if it's a person who is well-trained so it's safe, I think you'd get a very different reaction …."

Those who are against arming teachers and school administrators say they would rather have more school resource officers, police officers who are on school grounds full-time.

Horne, himself, has been an advocate of school resource officers, but he says it's an issue of money -- money that simply isn't there.

"I think it's unrealistic to expect that the Legislature will have enough money to put a school resource officer in every school, although I would personally favor that," he said. "What I'm proposing is the second-best solution. If you can't afford a school resource officer, you train someone who's going to be there anyway ….

"There's no budget impact," he continued, explaining that his office would handle the training at no cost to the schools or individual volunteers. "It enables us to have somebody in every school who is trained in those things that are needed to be sure that it's a safe program."

"We will oppose any legislation that proposes to place firearms in the hands of anyone who is not a certified, trained law enforcement or security professional in our schools," reads the AEA website.

"The answer to reducing violence on our schools cannot be to increase the number of guns on campuses," AEA President Andrew F. Morrill said in an online statement.

I believe it is inexcusable for teachers, students and school staff to be undefended.

- Tom Horne, Arizona Attorney General


School administrators are responsible for the safety of children and they should be able to defend their campuses.

- Rep. David Stephens


The answer to reducing violence on our schools cannot be to increase the number of guns on campuses.

- Andrew F. Morrill, Ariz. Education Assn.

Horne first floated this idea right after Christmas. Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan, and Apache County Sheriff Joe Dedman all offered their support.

A few days after Horne's announcement, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio announced his intention to send armed posse members to patrol around dozens of schools located on county islands. Those patrols around nearly 60 schools started in January and a special training exercise with action movie star Steven Seagal took place earlier this month.

While the patrols are not on the campus grounds, Arpaio's goal is to create a visual presence at the schools like the posse does at Valley malls during the holiday season.

"We've done this posse program for 20 years," he said, talking about his confidence in the plan. "I hope this acts as a deterrent. I hope nothing happens, that we don't have to take massive actions."

It's not clear if Arpaio plans to expand the patrols to cover all Maricopa County schools.

As for HB 2656, Horne said he believes he has the support to get it passed. If that happens, it will be up to the schools to decided if they want to participate.

Stevens, the bill's sponsor, has been outspoken on the issue of gun control.

He is one of several representatives who would like to see Arizona exempt from federal gun control laws. Stevens and four of his colleagues proposed House Bill 2291, titled "Arizona Firearms: prohibited enforcement," which would make it a Class 6 felony for federal government employees to enforce new federal laws or regulations on guns, accessories and ammunition owned or manufactured in our state.