University and community college officials are trying to ward off an attempt by lawmakers to let some teachers carry concealed weapons onto their campuses.
Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, who crafted SB1011, said he believes an armed teacher would be the first line of defense for students and others. Harper said just removing the prohibition on guns on campuses would itself be a deterrent to someone considering shooting up a classroom.
“Those that would come into an area known as a defense-free zone should have to think twice about doing harm to innocent life,” he said. “And if they know that a law-abiding citizen can carry their firearm concealed, as guaranteed by the Constitution, endowed by our creator, they’re going to think twice about doing harm to someone.”
Harper already appears to have the support of the majority of the members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety and Human Services. But Sen. Linda Gray, R-Glendale, who chairs the panel, postponed Wednesday’s scheduled vote for a week to get legal clarification of a couple of matters, including exactly what defines a “faculty member” who would be permitted to be armed.
In the meantime, representatives of the public institutions of higher education urged lawmakers to reconsider.
Anthony Daykin, police chief of the University of Arizona, said there’s a vast difference between allowing a trained law enforcement officer to have a gun in a classroom and just anyone.
Harper said this wouldn’t open the door to just anyone. He said the law would apply only to those who have state-issued permits to carry a concealed weapon, something that requires a background check, instruction on the use of deadly force and proof of being able to handle the weapon.
But Daykin said that training totals only eight hours — and only once. He said police officers undergo special training about when to use their weapons as well as having to constantly be checked that they remain proficient in their firearms handling to ensure that a stray bullet does not injure or kill a bystander.
And John Thomas, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, pointed out that other measures making their way through the Legislature would dilute those requirements to get a permit. And he noted there also is a move to let anyone carry a concealed weapon, permit or not.
Harper said, though, his proposal would apply only to those with a state-issued permit.
Luis Martinez, police chief at Central Arizona College, said that doesn’t solve the underlying problem of guns in an enclosed area like a classroom. He said it will be “very, very dangerous” to have a situation with many people armed.
“How many folks are going to draw their guns? How many other faculty are going to come running?” he told lawmakers. “When the police arrived, (they’d have to decide) who’s the shooter, who’s the faculty.”
The objections drew the ire of Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake.
“I guess I’m always curious why law enforcement is against law-abiding citizens being able to protect themselves,” she said. “We’re not going to get rid of guns in this country.”
She cited the 2007 incident at Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 before turning the weapon on himself.
Allen said one professor attempted to hold a door shut so the shooter could not get into a room.
“If he had had a gun, we might have a whole different story of what happened that day,” she said. “He could have defended himself and his students instead of dying at that door that he was trying to hold shut.”
One reason Gray delayed action on the bill is she said there isn’t a good definition in the measure of exactly who would be entitled to have a weapon. At this point, it says only that it applies to “a faculty member of the college or university,” a definition that some lawmakers said leaves open the question of part-time teachers and visiting professors.
Allen, however, said all of that is irrelevant.
“We’re talking about law-abiding citizens who went through the (concealed weapon) training,” she said, whether they qualify as “faculty” or not.
That prompted Thomas to suggest that what Harper wants this year might be only the beginning.
“If you allow faculty this year, next year will be staff, next year will be the students,” he said, leading to more and more guns on campuses.