Even before the mass shooting in Tucson led to calls for rethinking mental health policies and the tone of political rhetoric, Arizona’s lawmakers set the stage for a debate over gun laws.
More pointedly, a debate to make those laws more lenient by lifting many weapons restrictions at college and university campuses.
One measure lawmakers will consider soon allows faculty members to carry a concealed weapon as long as they have a state-issued permit to do so. A more expansive bill says colleges can’t forbid concealed weapons on campus if the carrier has a permit. The permit requires a background check and some training. The bills were introduced in December for the legislative session that began this week.
Only police can carry firearms now on campus, but supporters of the bills say their proposals would give students and faculty a chance to defend themselves if shooter took aim.
Gun rights advocates made the same argument following mass shootings like 2007’s Virginia Tech shooting, which left 32 dead.
Arizona’s current gun restrictions make sitting ducks of law-abiding students and professors, supporters say, as a shooter could have finished an act by the time armed police arrive.
Colleges strongly oppose measures to ease restrictions. Educators aren’t trained to defend themselves and shouldn’t be expected to also take on law enforcement duties, said Barry Vaughan, a spokesman for the Maricopa Colleges Faculty Association.
He doesn’t believe an armed professor at one end of a classroom would necessarily be in a position to save lives if a gunman where firing from the other side of the room.
“What about all the students who would be in the crossfire?” Vaughan said. “All of the scenarios that one could think of are just horrifying.”
The police response could be even more chaotic if students or teachers were armed, said Vaughan, a philosophy and religious studies professor at Mesa Community College. He argues the initial response to a shooting could be slowed as law enforcement tried to determine which of the armed people triggered the attack and which ones were acting in defense.
The bills were filed in December by Rep. Jack Harper, R-Surprise. HB 2001 would allow faculty to carry concealed firearms with a concealed weapons permit while HB 2014 lets anybody with a permit be armed on campuses.
A House Republican spokesman did not return calls to comment on the bills. The National Rifle Association wouldn’t weigh in on the issue in light of the Saturday shooting that claimed six lives and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“At this time anything other than prayers for the victims and their families would be inappropriate,” an NRA spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
Vaughan expects the momentum will continue to lift Arizona’s gun restrictions.
“I honestly don’t think that the tragedy of the attempted assassination in Tucson is going to have much of a productive impact on the gun control debate,” he said.
Arizona has lifted numerous gun restrictions over the years, such as a 2009 law that allows bar patrons to be armed as long as they don’t drink. Last year, Arizona allowed residents to carry a concealed weapon without a permit. Lawmakers have tried for years to lift gun restrictions but had been blocked by vetoes from then-Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat. Republican Gov. Jan Brewer signed previously blocked bills into law, and gun bills stand an ever greater chance of success given the Legislature now has even more conservative lawmakers than previously.
Brewer got an A+ rating last spring from the National Rifle Association during her campaign for governor.
Also last year, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence gave Arizona one of its lowest ratings, just two points out of a possible 100. Those points are in jeopardy, as they were awarded because Arizona’s colleges weren’t prohibited from banning guns on their campuses.
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