Republicans who control the Arizona Senate pushed through a bill Monday allowing designated teachers, administrators or other employees in rural schools to carry a handgun and allowing retired police officers who work in schools statewide to carry guns.
The bill sponsored by Sen. Rich Crandall, of Mesa, was approved on 17-11 party-line vote over the objections of Democrats, who failed to persuade any Republicans to oppose the bill they believe will bring added risk to schools. Democrats instead argued for more trained school resource officers, added mental health treatment and more school counselors to help prevent school violence.
Crandall's bill is the least sweeping of several legislative proposals to arm teachers prompted by December's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., and the national gun control debate, and it appears to be the one most likely to become law. It is based on a 6-year-old Texas law and applies only to rural schools that have 600 students or fewer, are at least 20 miles and 30 minutes from the nearest police station, and lack a school resource officer.
Crandall has said his bill is a measured response to school safety issues and is designed to provide some protection to rural schools that are far from law enforcement centers. Other bills that have yet to advance in the Legislature would allow any district to designate teachers or administrators who received proper training to carry firearms.
"This has been crafted very narrowly for those rural school districts in very unique circumstances only with significant training," Crandall told fellow senators.
The Senate last week turned back Democrat's efforts to add several provisions, including one that would have required law enforcement and parents be informed if a gun was lost or stolen.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said on the Senate floor Monday that he opposed putting guns into the hands of lesser-trained people on campuses with students who are not yet developed enough to control their emotions. He also said he worried the bill would be amended by the House to expand its reach.
"I've heard members in the House say that they wanted to amend it to allow (guns) all over the state in all schools with less than 2,000 students, and I think that's a serious mistake," Farley said.
But Crandall said he doesn't support that, and tried to allay any fears.
"They have been very good in Texas not to extend it to include urban areas, it is still just a rural bill after six years," Crandall said. "And I do think that's where we need to keep it at for the time being until there's a little more of a proven history of the role of self-defense in an urban school district."
The bill now goes to the House for consideration.