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Student, lawmakers call for changes to gun laws

Backed by other advocates for tighter gun regulations, Mountain View High School junior Jordan Harb details Monday how students plan to walk out Wednesday and come to the Capitol to advocate for new gun laws designed to protect themselves and their teachers. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Backed by other advocates for tighter gun regulations, Mountain View High School junior Jordan Harb details Monday how students plan to walk out Wednesday and come to the Capitol to advocate for new gun laws designed to protect themselves and their teachers. (Photo by Rachel Leingang/Arizona Capitol Times)

Saying students are trying to save their own lives, a Mountain View High School junior said Monday he is helping organize a walkout Wednesday to get the attention of recalcitrant legislators who to date have yet to approve any meaningful limits on access to guns.

Jordan Harb said the walkout — and Capitol rally for students already on break — will feature 17 minutes of silence, one for each of the students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. But Harb, speaking at a press conference Monday, said the other purpose is “to tell our legislators that we want our lives taken into account.”

Harb’s comments came as others at the Monday event on the Capitol lawn made their own proposals for the kinds of changes in law that they believe would reduce gun violence. These include universal background checks on buyers, prohibiting those charged with domestic violence from having weapons, and allowing a judge to issue a “mental health injunction” to remove firearms from those who are found to pose “a significant danger of personal injury to himself or another.”

But Harb said while he supports those moves, there’s an even simpler way of helping to deal with the problem, one that doesn’t get into the controversial area of who gets to have guns: more counselors.

“I know people who are going through terrible things and have thought about killing themselves,” he said.

“And they can’t get help at our school because our psychologist has 4,000 students to deal with,” Harb said. “And it’s not OK.”

Much of the frustration expressed at Monday’s press conference centers around the fact that only one measure dealing with weapons got a hearing this year. And that was a bill to override rules by the Department of Child Safety that spell out that foster families cannot have loaded weapons in their homes.

That measure seems to have stalled in the wake of the latest outcry over gun violence. But other bills introduced by Democrats in the Republican-controlled Legislature have been unable to get even an airing.

Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, touted HB 2024 to require true universal background checks.

Under current law, a federally licensed firearm dealer can sell a weapon only after running that person’s name through a federal database to see if there is a legal reason he or she cannot have a gun. But none of that applies in person-to-person sales, even if the seller is disposing of multiple weapons at a gun show.

In fact, Gov. Doug Ducey actually signed legislation just last year to prohibit any sort of background check on individual sales, including precluding cities from having their own requirements for checks when the gun show is being operated on city property.

Speaking with reporters later Monday, the governor said his administration is “taking a look at background checks,” including how information about local violations end up in the national database.

“Our focus is on school safety and how we make our schools safer,” Ducey said when meeting with reporters later in the day. “I’m looking to keep all the guns out of the hands of the individuals that should not have them.”

But Ducey gave no indication he is interested in closing what some call the “gun show loophole.”

“There are also federally registered gun dealers at gun shows that perform background checks,” he said when asked about the issue.

That is true. And licensed dealers do have to perform background checks on their own sales.

But none of that affects the ability of anyone else to transfer a weapon without a check. In fact, the law Ducey signed specifically overruled a Tucson ordinance that said a licensed dealer had to perform a background check for those person-to-person sales.

The governor, however, said he sees background checks through a different lens.

“When a grandfather wants to pass a shotgun down to a grandson, we’re not going to have … private exchange background checks,” Ducey said.

During the press conference, deputy Pima County Attorney Kathleen Mayer put in a word for HB 2140. It would permit a family member or law enforcement to go to court and get an injunction to take away weapons, at least temporarily, from someone who she said is suffering an “acute mental health crisis.” Mayer said that had such a law been in effect in 2011, Jared Loughner might not have had access to a weapon he used to kill six people and seriously injure 13 others including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

“It is up to us to make sure that this bill does get a hearing,” Mayer said. “We have to flood the phone lines, the emails of our legislators to actually stand up and do something.”

Daniel Hernandez, now a state legislator, recalled that he was just 20 at the time, “only two years older than many of the students at Parkland, when he was working as an intern for Giffords and “had to hold the head of his boss as she was shot in the head.”

“I come as a school board member who served in the Sunnyside Unified School District when the Newtown (Conn.) shooting happened and we were told, ‘This is it, this is the moment, this is when things will change,” he said, recalling the 2012 incident at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 children and six educators were killed.

“And now I stand here today as a state representive saying enough is enough,” Hernandez said. “We deserve better. Our kids deserve better.”

Ducey said he is listening to the concerns of various parties and is crafting some sort of package he believes will be acceptable. But the governor’s record on the issue — and his repeated claim to be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment — leaves questions.

Aside from banning background checks on person-to-person sales, the governor also penned his approval to a measure which allows lawsuits against cities that enact their own gun laws beyond what the Legislature permits. Ducey also signed a law allowing gun owners to carry their weapons on public streets and sidewalks near and through college and university campuses.

Mayer said her boss, County Attorney Barbara LaWall, is “gratified” the governor is finally reaching out to look for solutions.

“We should take heart in that, but don’t ever give up,” Mayer said, saying LaWall is “waiting to see” what Ducey actually agrees to support.

Lawrence Robinson, the president-elect of the Arizona School Boards Association, said the failure of lawmakers to act, even in the wake of the Parkland shooting, has left students unprotected. He said in the two weeks following that incident there were 17 incidents in Arizona alone where a student was found bringing a gun onto a school campus, things he said could have lead to “a copy-cat incident.”

“We’re playing Russian roulette with our kids,” Robinson said.

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