In an attempt to prevent the type of massacre that recently left 20 children dead at a Connecticut elementary school, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office wants to provide firearms training to one employee at every school.
Under the plan, which Attorney General Tom Horne announced today, every K-12 school in the state can designate its principal or another employee to receive extensive training to in firearms use and emergency response. Horne said he proposed the plan in response to the Dec. 14 shooting that killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
The Apache, Mohave and Pinal county sheriff’s offices have offered to provide the training, which would be offered at no financial cost to schools. Horne said the Attorney General’s Office would also provide the training, and he is talking with other sheriff’s offices about taking part in the program.
Horne said he prefers the National Rifle Association’s recent proposal to put an armed police officer in every school. But considering Arizona’s budget constraints of the past few years, which led to deep cuts to the state’s school resource officer program, Horne said his proposal is the next best option.
“The NRA plan is much better and I would totally advocate for that, and have for many years advocated for a policeman in every school through what we call the school resource officers program,” Horne said. “This is the second best.”
The plan would require a change to Arizona law that prohibits anyone except police officers and retired officers from carrying firearms on school campuses. Rep. David Gowan, the House majority leader, will sponsor the bill, he said.
Horne said his plan will allow only one employee at each school to carry a weapon, and that employee would be required by law to undergo an extensive training program. The training program would include not only firearms use and marksmanship but weapon storage; simulation training to develop reflexes and prevent accidental shootings; defensive tactics; and applicable laws. The plan would require schools to keep the firearms locked in a secure place, and would require a communications plan to be used in case of emergencies.
The Newtown shooting reinvigorated a national debate on school safety and guns. Many gun control advocates are pushing for new restrictions, such as bans on assault rifles or extended ammunition magazines. Meanwhile, some Second Amendment advocates are calling for teachers to be armed.
Horne opposes the proposals to arm teachers, which he said would do more harm than good.
“Kids can get at things. When teachers lock up cell phones, kids have ways of getting in the areas where they’re held. And I think if you had teachers bringing guns to schools, kids could get at it and it would create more danger than it would solve,” Horne said. “So this is kind of the golden mean between just having any teacher bring guns to school and doing nothing, which I think we would regret if a preventable incident happened and we hadn’t done anything to prevent it.”
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, immediately lashed out at Horne’s proposal, writing on Twitter that “Horne’s idea is horrible.” In the immediate aftermath of the Newtown shooting, Campbell came out in support of putting more armed school resource officers in schools. He is urging fellow lawmakers to support the restoration of funding for the school resource officer program.
Campbell, D-Phoenix, said the state should not put educators in a position of trying to do the job of law enforcement officers.
“Why don’t we just fund the SRO program that already exists? That’s the bottom line,” Campbell said. “We need to make logical, rational decisions on this, not these knee-jerk-type of reactions and these reactions that are trying to save a buck. That’s not the way to handle this problem. We need to invest the time and the money in getting schools the resources that they need.”
Campbell said the SRO program had about $8 million in state funding at its high-water mark before the Legislature began cutting the program in 2009. Campbell, who is considering a run for governor in 2014, said he will unveil several proposals in about two weeks aimed at preventing mass shootings in schools and elsewhere. The proposals will include “gun reform” legislation, as well as funding for mental health and the SRO program.
He said he will likely propose increased funding for school resource officers beyond the $8 million that was cut.
“It’s not a matter of not having the money. It’s a matter of where we’re spending the money that we have. And I think we have to look in the mirror and ask ourselves that,” Campbell said.
Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, was also cool to the plan. He said the Legislature should simply restore funding so schools that want resource officers on campus can get security from trained professionals, not educators who are doing double duty.
“If a school and a district decide that they want an armed presence on campus, that needs to be a trained law officer or a security officer whose primary role is, in fact, security and student safety,” Morrill said. “What we don’t want to do is compromise on that and say, since we don’t have the funding for that, then we’re going to water it down in some way with an educator who is trained to be a sort of hybrid security officer. And that’s what it sounds like to me.”
Horne said he hopes to see more funding for school resource officers if Campbell can get the votes for it in the Legislature. But Horne said his proposal is the second best option, considering the state’s ongoing fiscal problems.
“If there’s any chance of getting more funding for school resource officers, I will advocate for that, yes,” Horne said.
Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose department has offered to provide training to school officials under the proposal, said schools should have both armed police officers and armed employees that are trained in firearms use under Horne’s plan.
“The NRA is correct. We need a cop in every school. We also need to train and arm school administrators and designated teachers to protect themselves and our school children,” Babeu said in a press statement. “Even with an officer on campus, some of these schools are quite large. The officer can’t be everywhere on campus and armed administrators and designated teachers could help limit and contain the active shooter.”