Horne calls for armed principals

AZ NRA officer calls proposal 'constructive' short-term plan
2012-12-27T00:00:00Z Horne calls for armed principalsHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
December 27, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - Calling it a compromise between extremes, Attorney General Tom Horne on Wednesday proposed training and arming principals or other top administrators at every public school.

Horne said he ideally would like to have a trained police officer in every school. But he said the state's budget constraints make that a financial impossibility.

Horne said having a single individual having access to a gun is preferable to letting each teacher be armed, saying having that many guns at a school could result in students getting hold of one of them.

But nothing in Horne's proposal, which would be optional for each school and each administrator, addresses the other side of the issue: whether it is too easy for individuals to get guns and arm themselves with high-capacity clips capable of shooting multiple people without reloading.

"That's not my area of jurisdiction," he said. "That would be a good question for a state legislator."

What makes the armed administrator proposal appropriate for his office, Horne said, is that it would be his 36 investigators, each a sworn peace officer, who would provide the training at no cost to the schools or the state. He conceded, though, that if they are training one person in each of 2,000 schools statewide it likely would take away from their other duties.

The plan is a variant of what National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre proposed last week. He said every school should have an armed officer and the federal government should pick up the cost.

But Todd Rathner, an NRA board member from Tucson, said his organization sees increased funding as only a temporary fix, much in the same way the military units were put in airports right after the September 2011 attacks.

Rathner said the NRA is looking for lower-cost alternatives in the long run.

"On its face, it sounds like a very good idea," he said of Horne's proposal. "It sounds constructive."

The move would require altering existing state laws that allow only certain people, like police officers, to be armed on public school grounds.

Horne said Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, has agreed to sponsor the necessary measure.

Gowan, however, said he has not agreed to support - or even to advance - what Horne wants.

He said he agreed to take the first steps toward drafting legislation "based on a mutual understanding that the bill would in some way deal with firearms training for education personnel."

"No language has been shared with me verbally or in writing, nor have I been involved in any efforts whatsoever to advance this preliminary concept to the public," he said in a prepared statement.

Gowan, who will be House Majority leader next session, declined multiple requests to discuss the plan or his prior support of other measures to expand where individuals can carry firearms.

At this point only Utah and Kansas allow guns on public school campuses.

Horne said he could not provide details on exactly what the training would involve or how much time would be appropriate.

But Horne said he envisions more than just teaching someone how to shoot accurately.

"There would be simulations in how to exercise good judgment and when to shoot and when not to shoot when there's a rampage going on in your school," he said.

Horne said he's convinced that training, conducted with a computer screen and fake electronic gun, is sufficient to ensure student safety.

"I've actually gone through that training myself," he said.

It would be up to the individual principal or whoever is designated to purchase his or her own firearm.

Similarly, Horne said, those who are designated could obtain body armor - again, at their own cost.

He also said the principal would not be wandering the building with a firearm. Instead, Horne envisions having the gun locked up at a secure location.

Horne said having an armed administrator at every school is "not a perfect solution."

"But if we did nothing and another incident occurred where someone was shooting a lot of people, and they could have been shot had there been an armed person in the school, we would regret doing nothing," he said.

Horne acknowledged that having the state permit someone to be on campus with a firearm could result in a lawsuit against the district if that administrator inadvertently shoots a student.

But he said the risk of a successful claim is minimal.

"If you give careful training, then you can't be accused of being negligent," Horne said. "If a guy's operating in a tough situation, he's not going to be judged by the same standard" as someone who is not in a high-risk situation.

The other side of that situation, Horne said, might be someone who, out of fear of being sued, simply decides to take no action at all.

Horne said, though, that he doubts an individual authorized to carry a gun could be sued for failing to act in a situation where a student is killed.

Horne already has lined up several county sheriffs to support his plan.

Pinal Sheriff Paul Babeu said he would prefer to have both an armed administrator and a trained police officer in every school.

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said he is taking a wait-and-see approach to Horne's proposal.

On StarNet: Go to azstarnet. com/news/local/govt-and-politics to read more about local and state government and political news.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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