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Bill to allow non-lethal weapon on campus gets initial approval

(Deposit Photos/Anutuno)

(Deposit Photos/Anutuno)

Saying college and university students, faculty and visitors need more protection, a House panel voted Monday to let them arm themselves — at least somewhat.

HB 2172 would override existing regulations which now keep all weapons off campus. Instead, people would be allowed to have “non-lethal” forms of self-defense.

Exactly what that would include, however, is less than clear.

“It’s not a gun, it’s not a huge knife, it’s not a sword,” said Rep. Travis Grantham, R-Gilbert, saying anything that could kill under normal circumstances would remain off limits.

What it does include, he said, are various chemical sprays. And stun guns that shock a would-be assailant also would be allowed.

But Grantham rejected a suggestion that his legislation is far too vague and that he needs to include a specific list of what would now be legal.

He said that closes the door to other forms of non-lethal weapons that may be under development. And Grantham sniffed at the idea that people won’t know what they can and cannot have.

“It’s pretty clear what’s lethal and what’s non-lethal,” he said.

The 8-3 vote of the House Education Committee came over the objection of Kristen Boilini who lobbies on behalf of community colleges statewide. She said each of those colleges are run by locally elected boards.

“They listen to students, they listen to voters,” Boilini said. She asked lawmakers to leave that issue to local control.

The university system, however, is another issue.

Rep. Paul Boyer, R-Phoenix, said the Board of Regents has yet to take an official position. About the only input provided was a letter by university presidents to Boyer, who chairs the committee, saying that these kinds of issues should be resolved with consultation rather than legislation.

Much of the testimony focused on vulnerability of students.

Mike Williams who lobbies for Taser International told lawmakers that 8 percent of women college students are victims of sexual assault. He said it’s not asking for too much to allow students to be armed with one of the products his company makes.

He told lawmakers that Taser manufactures more than the stun guns used by police, the devices that deliver a 500-volt jolt over five seconds. Williams said the company also markets a device specifically for students, one that will disable an attacker for 30 seconds, allowing the would-be victim to drop the device and run away to seek help.

In fact, Williams said, Taser will replace the device if a police report is filed.

Grantham acknowledged that the policy of the Board of Regents does allow students to carry over-the-counter pepper sprays. But he argued the policy does not permit those devices to have sufficient quantities of the chili pepper oil to make it truly effective.

Anyway, Grantham said, pepper spray is not an ideal self-defense tool, as it can affect everyone else in the area. By contrast, he said, if he hits someone in the shoulder with a Taser, only that person is disabled.

And Williams said that some people who are hopped up on drugs may not be deterred or affected by a pepper spray.

“Students need to understand that they’re not going to get kicked off campus if they’re armed with a Taser or (chemical) Mace,” he said.

The measure also drew the support of Justin Harris, executive director of the Arizona Police Officers Association. He said that “bad guys” might be deterred if they fear that their would-be victims are armed.

As originally crafted, the legislation also would have allowed non-lethal weapons on campuses of even private schools that get public funds. But Boyer asked that be removed under the premise that the right of people to defend themselves does not trump the rights of private property owners to keep weapons out of their buildings.

The measure now needs approval of the full House.

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