PHOENIX — State lawmakers took the first steps last Tuesday to allow teachers to legally carry weapons in at least some public schools.
But the proposal Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, would be limited pretty much to small rural schools — at least for now — under the premise that they are too far from law enforcement to get a rapid response in case of a problem.
As approved, the legislation applies only to schools with fewer than 600 students which are more than 30 minutes and 20 miles away from the closest law enforcement facility. It also would allow teachers and administrators to be armed only if the school does not already have an armed police officer serving as a school resource officer.
But Tuesday’s vote is not the last word.
Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, told Capitol Media Services he hopes to expand the scope of the legislation when the measure reaches the House of Representatives.
Stevens, with the help of Attorney General Tom Horne, crafted separate legislation opening up the option for an armed teacher at all of the state’s more than 2,000 public schools across the state. But he said his measure was introduced too late in the process to get a hearing of its own.
There already is sentiment among Senate Republicans for expanding the scope of the measure.
Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, called it “a step in the right direction” that does not go far enough.
“We’re now, by passing this bill as is, basically saying we’re going to make the rural schools safer than we are the more urban schools,” he said.
Murphy said he has a hard time believing that a school located within 19 minutes of a police station is somehow more secure than one a minute farther removed. And he questioned the reason for any sort of limit, whether time or distance.
“Even when you’re across the street, you’ve got three, four minutes, a lot happens in three or four minutes,” Murphy continued. “I would rather have somebody be able to have an immediate response.”
Crandall, however, said it makes sense to take a more limited approach to eliminating what until now has been a ban on anyone but police officers carrying their weapons in schools.
He said this legislation is modeled after a 5-year-old law in Texas, a law Crandall said has created no problems.
“There have been no incidents that would cause alarm for us as we test the waters in this area,” Crandall said.
Under Crandall’s bill, any teacher who is designated to be able to carry a concealed weapon would have to be trained in everything from marksmanship to legal issues on the use of deadly force and the mental conditioning necessary to do just that.
As approved by the committee, the measure actually goes beyond what is in place in Texas.
Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, added language to allow retired police officers who are now working as teachers or administrators to also be armed — with school board permission — at any school in the state. That would apply, however, only to those who served in law enforcement for at least 10 consecutive years.
Rep. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, one of the two votes against the measure, said is concerned that a teacher would have the additional burden of also being a security guard.
“Being a former teacher, I know it’s important for a teacher to be in the classroom, with the main focus to be educating our students, not providing a safety aspect as well and having that additional burden as well,” she said.
The measure now goes to the full Senate