A bill before Arizona lawmakers this session renews a push to allow teachers to arm themselves in the classroom.
Supporters, including Attorney General Tom Horne, say the legislation would protect children and staff in the event of a mass shooting.
“It’s a tool in the toolbox to help provide safety in the school system,” said Republican Rep. David Stevens, the Sierra Vista lawmaker who is sponsoring the proposal.
But opponents, including Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill, would rather have police officers assigned to schools and consider the proposal little more than a ploy to expand gun rights.
“Arming teachers, arming anybody that’s not trained law enforcement in a complex environment like that, it’s just a bad idea,” said Democratic Rep. Chad Campbell, of Phoenix.
House Bill 2412 would allow school districts to authorize an unlimited number of teachers and other staff to be armed if they completed 24 hours of training from instructors approved by the attorney general’s office or state peace officer training board. The required yearly training for teachers would include sessions on handling and storage of weapons, scenario-based training and familiarization with what police call “active shooter response.”
The legislation is in its earliest stages, and it’s too early to gauge its chances of passing.
Stevens sponsored a similar proposal last year with Horne, the state’s top prosecutor, backing it as a way to beef up security at schools after a rash of shootings, including the December 2012 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
That legislation never received a hearing, however, as an armed teachers bill sponsored by then-Sen. Rich Crandall, a Mesa Republican, which would have armed only rural teachers, made its way through the Senate and then died in the House.
Democrats are opposed to arming teachers or other school employees, saying such staffers would not have the required training or background to respond.
“It was a bad idea last year, it’s a bad idea this year,” said Campbell, the House minority leader. “Arming teachers, arming anybody that’s not trained law enforcement in a complex environment like that, it’s just a bad idea.”
Such opponents say that assigning police as school resource officers makes for a better answer.
Horne also is an advocate of school resource officers and would like to have one on each campus, but said it’s just not financially possible.
“If you don’t have enough money to have school resource officers in all the schools then this is a second line of defense,” Horne said.
The bill contains none of the other school safety measures floated last year, such as setting up a school safety improvement fund and doubling the number of school counselors. It instead appears to just be another in a series of efforts in the state to expand gun rights, Morrill said.
Morrill said the bill provides no money for additional school police officers. “That tells you school safety if not a priority,” he said.
Stevens said his bill would be voluntary, leaving it to each school district to approve having armed teachers and relying on employees to volunteer for firearms training. He also said that only those teachers who were familiar with guns would likely apply.
“These aren’t just going to be average citizens, they’ll be people who want to do this training and probably already have some sort of background in weapons handling,” Stevens said. “There’s a lot of ex-military going into teaching.”
Campbell said the state could find the money to put trained officers in most schools if it made school safety a priority, and he warned of the consequences of having non-professionals armed on campus.
“Arming teachers that aren’t trained to handle complex situations, who aren’t trained to handle the arrival of law enforcement, that’s going to end up bad,” Campbell said. “And at some point a teacher’s going to shoot a student, shoot a parent, or shoot another teacher and then it’s over with. The liability issues alone make this a ridiculous proposal.”
Stevens believes his bill has a good chance to advance and blamed fighting over Medicaid, the state budget and Crandall’s proposal for the demise of his proposal last year.
“When the budget came up we had like 600 bills that just languished,” he said. “In a normal year it would have gotten through.”