State senators voted Wednesday to allow a teacher, administrator, custodian or even cafeteria worker at rural and some suburban schools to be armed.
Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, said SB 1325 would improve student safety. He said while better mental health screening and more police officers at schools are important, it is also necessary to provide schools with a "self-defense component.''
But Crandall joined with other Republicans to beat back an effort to require that whoever is designated to carry a gun must report to police if the weapon is lost or stolen. That brought derision from Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix.
"The only reason that gun owners do not want to report they lost their gun or they misplaced it is because they're too embarrassed,'' Gallardo said. "They don't want people to know that they're an irresponsible firearm holder.''
And Gallardo said that notice of an errant gun really should not be limited to police.
"At the very least, I would believe every parent would want to know that their child is going to a school that may have a gun roaming around,'' he said.
Crandall's legislation needs a final roll-call vote before going to the House.
The measure is limited to schools with fewer than 600 students which also are more than 30 minutes and 20 miles from the closest law enforcement facility. He said the most isolated schools, like those in Crown King and Wikieup are far too far away from anything to be able to depend on prompt police response.
The Republicans who control the Senate also killed an attempt by Gallardo to scale back the legislation so it would apply only to schools of fewer than 200. Crandall said larger schools need similar self-defense capacity, specifically mentioning the elementary and high schools in Elfrida.
But the Senate action may not be the last word. Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, already has said he hopes to expand the scope of the legislation when the measure reaches the House.
Stevens had crafted a proposal to allow an armed teacher at all of the state's more than 2,000 public schools. But it was introduced too late to get a hearing of its own.
Crandall said his legislation is modeled after laws in Texas which give school districts similar permission to let school employees be armed.
Aside from the school size and location limits, the legislation spells out that weapons either must be carried concealed by the designated employee or secured in a storage locker.
Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, questioned the whole premise of allowing a school board to decide that one of its employees is qualified to be armed and potentially walking around the building with a loaded weapon.
But Senate Majority Leader John McComish, R-Phoenix, brushed aside those concerns.
"Who better to decide than the local school board, elected by the local community,'' he said. And McComish said if the community is opposed to the whole concept of armed school employees "it's not going to happen because it's the local school board that's going to make that decision.''
The legislation does have some training requirements for the designated employee, ranging from weapon care and maintenance to marksmanship, judgmental shooting and legal issues relating to the use of deadly force.