PHOENIX - Attorney General Tom Horne and Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, are pushing a plan to let principals, teachers and janitors at public schools carry guns.
Stevens said his goal is to make public schools safer, believing more people with guns and training should do that.
But Stevens stressed nothing in HB 2656 requires any school district to go along. He said it simply provides an option, with locally elected boards having the final decision.
Stevens also said it is less expensive than providing an armed police officer in all of the approximately 2,000 public school buildings across the state. And with cost a non-issue, the legislation shouldn't get bogged down in overall budget negotiations.
But Andrew Morrill, president of the Arizona Education Association, said it's a mistake to believe school employees with just 24 hours of training can replace a properly trained officer.
"What I hear is passing the buck on training until we get it down to an affordable model," he said.
School resource officer training requires a licensed police officer, with added training "to know how to be a police officer on the unique beat of a campus full of children, adolescents, preteens and teens," Morrill said. Stevens' measure "waters down" safety and taking a comprehensive approach, he said.
Tucson Unified School District Superintendent John Pedicone has strong reservations about the proposal, saying it's not something that the district would embrace.
"On one hand, there is the issue of wanting that extra level of security to make our schools a little bit safer, but I can't imagine putting that responsibility on school personnel," Pedicone said.
Even with training, Pedicone - a gun owner who served in the Army - feels it is difficult to have a controlled response when faced with someone who wants to do harm.
Pedicone has discussed the legislation with TUSD board members, and he said the majority prefer to use school resource officers and security guards.
He noted that there is one positive - the possibility of a school shooter being discouraged from carrying out an attack because someone on campus may be armed.
Horne said if it were up to him, he would prefer to have police officers rather than armed teachers, but the political and fiscal reality is that that isn't going to happen.
So this is better than nothing, Horne said. It ensures "if a bad guy gets in and starts shooting, there's somebody there to stop them."
Stevens said the way the measure is crafted should blunt criticism from local school boards and their staffers.
"All it is is a voluntary program," he said. "If they don't want to do it, they don't have to do it."
Although Arizona has not had the kind of school shootings that have happened elsewhere, Horne said, that doesn't mean it couldn't happen.
"It strikes people at random. And it strikes schools at random," he said.
He also said parents would feel safer knowing there is someone on the site who could respond.
Horne and Stevens are seeking to sidestep the education association criticism, promising to have teachers at a press conference today to support the legislation.
Under the plan, the staffer would not be walking around the school armed. Instead, he or she would lock the weapon up in a place where it would be accessible if needed.
One likely issue for debate is whether the training requirements Horne and Stevens want are sufficient.
To carry a weapon onto campus, an individual would need to pass a 24-hour course. Issues to be covered include the legal situations where someone can use deadly force, and the care, maintenance and safe handling of weapons. There also is a mandate for marksmanship training and "scenario-based training."
Districts would have to provide the Attorney General's Office with a list of employees who are authorized to use a gun.
Horne said he believes 24 hours of training is enough.
"If you look at police training and you eliminate all the stuff that's irrelevant, like how to give a speeding ticket and so on, I think you might find that the training is similar," he said.
Morrill said the problem with this legislation, and similar plans, is they are knee-jerk reactions to headlines and are not well thought out.
"These horrifying situations come up like in Connecticut or Colorado, and they're unthinkable," he said. "And all of a sudden, those are the situations we base our responses on. What we need are comprehensive safety plans for the day-in, day-out safety of students."
That would include not just school safety officers, he said, but ensuring there are sufficient counselors to deal with students, school psychologists to diagnose students who might be struggling with anger issues and "an aggressive anti-bullying campaign."
Star reporter Alexis Huicochea contributed to this story.