PHOENIX – Arizona can protect schools and communities from gun violence by making campuses more secure, increasing services for the mentally ill and tightening gun ownership laws, the top Democrat in the state House said Wednesday.
“Hopefully things have become more apparent to people down here that we need to no longer protect the status quo but move forward with a new line of thinking on this issue,” said Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, the House minority leader.
Joined by the state’s largest teachers union, Campbell held a news conference to announce his wide-ranging, $261 million Arizona Safer Schools, Safer Community Plan. It includes $62 million over three years to double the number of school counselors and $138 million annually to expand Medicaid coverage for the mentally ill.
Campbell said the numerous high-profile shootings at schools and other public places over the last two years underscore the need for a comprehensive response to gun violence, particularly the threat to students.
“It’s time to take this thing head on … and talk about it in reasonable terms, not rhetoric,” Campbell said.
Campbell said the plan will be broken into several bills, some of which are already drafted.
Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill said schools should reflect the value society places on children.
“That debt, from an educator’s standpoint, begins with safety,” he said.
Campbell’s plan offers a five-point approach to campus safety, mainly by increasing funding for existing programs. It includes a 200 percent increase in funding for a program that pays for school resource officers and would establish a $20 million school safety fund to provide competitive grant money for schools to address needs identified by mandatory threat assessments.
Another section would expand coverage and services for seriously mentally ill individuals who qualify for Medicaid or have incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
On gun control, one change proposed by Campbell would close the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all sales except in cases where a weapon passes between family members as an heirloom.
While Attorney General Tom Horne has proposed arming the principal or another staff member at each school, Campbell’s plan would let individual schools decide whether to have an armed school resource officer.
Morrill said educators don’t want to become armed guards.
“You don’t reduce the violence on Arizona campuses or anywhere by increasing the number of firearms on campus,” he said.
Rey Torres, a spokesman for the House Republican majority, said over the phone that he wouldn’t comment on the plan because it is “irrelevant.”
Campbell, however, said he hopes lawmakers address gun violence without “partisan games.”
“Financially, it’s a fiscally responsible proposal,” he said.