Teachers, administrators and school employees will be allowed to carry a concealed handgun into classrooms next school year if a bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday becomes law.
Proponents of the bill argue it is necessary as a last option to stop the kind of massacre that occurred in a Connecticut elementary school earlier this year, but opponents said allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom will likely cause accidental shootings and could lead to more gun deaths in schools.
House Democratic leader Chad Campbell of Phoenix said the bill is an accident waiting to happen, and there are better options to keep Arizona students safe.
“What happens the first time a teacher accidentally shoots a kid, accidentally shoots another teacher, shoots a parent, shoots multiple victims who were not engaged in criminal activity? What happens once something goes wrong?” Campbell asked.
But Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, the committee chair and a retired police officer, said the bill isn’t perfect but it’s necessary to present further killing of schoolchildren.
“You can’t have a cop everywhere, so you do the best you can and when you have a program like this… then maybe you can help save a kid’s life,” he said.
The bill, SB1325, which was sponsored by Republican Sen. Rich Crandall of Mesa, would allow a school’s governing board to authorize an employee to possess a concealed handgun on the property. The school must have fewer than 600 students, be more than 30 minutes and 20 miles from a police station and not employ a school resource officer, which is essentially a campus cop.
The school’s governing board must consider people’s temperament, personality and previous reaction to crises, if applicable, before authorizing them to carry a concealed weapon on campus. The armed employee must have a fingerprint clearance card and a concealed weapons permit and must undergo certain training requirements.
The training requirements include 40 hours of firearms training provided by the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board on a variety of topics, including legal issues relating to the use of deadly force, weapon care, storage and maintenance, mental conditioning for the use of deadly force, marksmanship, judgmental shooting, scenario-based training, and active shooter response training.
The Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board is against the bill because they do not have the financial ability to do the additional training, a representative from the organization said.
The armed teacher would also be required to annually pass a handgun qualifying exam. Retired peace officers who are employees of the school would also be allowed to carry concealed weapons on campus if they had a certificate of firearms proficiency.
The bill requires firearms to remain concealed on the authorized person at all times, or stored in a secure gun locker maintained by the school. Crandall’s bill is modeled after a Texas law that allows teachers to carry concealed weapons in rural schools.
But Democrats on the committee said that the training is inadequate, and provides a false sense of security.
Democratic Rep. Lela Alston of Phoenix, a retired teacher, said that teaching is hard enough, and she wouldn’t trust herself with a gun after 40 hours of training.
“To think that someone like me would be assigned to carry a weapon and defend (students) with a gun after 40 hours of training is ridiculous,” Alston said. “You people would not want to ride in the same car with me if I was carrying a weapon after 40 hours of training. We need to let the people who are experienced and well trained do that job, and those are the school resource officers.”
Campbell repeatedly referenced a school safety package he proposed at the beginning of the year which would provide funding for school resource officers. That package of bills was paid for by ending the tax credit for students attending charter schools, which is a non-starter for Republican lawmakers, and none of the bills was ever heard in a committee.
“There are other options, we’ve offered them… There are plenty of options we have in this state to make our schools safer,” Campbell said. “If this is the best we can come up with regarding school safety, I feel sorry for the teachers and the students and the parents of Arizona.”
Campbell argued that besides putting students at risk – possibly from an unstable or trigger happy teacher – it would put schools at a financial risk of being liable in lawsuits if something were to go wrong.
But Kavanagh said that at the age of 16, he was give 30 hours of training and trusted as a volunteer ambulance attendant who was responding to car accidents, strokes and heart attacks.
“The people who I went to some of whom were dying, would they have loved a doctor? You bet they would have, but you cant have a doctor everywhere. But I had some training and I had some equipment and I kept a lot of them alive, and that’s what we’re talking about here,” he said.
After more than an hour of debate, Republican Rep. Rick Gray of Sun City West, said that he didn’t believe continuing the debate would change anybody’s mind, and he used a procedural move to call the question – or force an immediate vote on the matter. One Republican crossed the isle to vote against the bill, but the bill passed with six in favor and five against.