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Updated Feb 26, 2013 - 5:34 pm

Bill arming some rural Arizona teachers gets hearing

PHOENIX -- Some teachers or administrators in rural schools and retired police officers working in any Arizona school would be allowed to carry a gun under a proposal approved by a Senate committee Tuesday.

The bill by Republican Sen. Rich Crandall of Mesa is the least sweeping of several legislative proposals to arm teachers and appears to be the most likely to gain traction.

It initially only applied to rural schools at least 20 miles and 30 minutes away from the nearest police station and didn't have a sworn school resource officer. It was amended to add the retired officer provision and other specifying training requirements Tuesday.

Crandall said his bill is a measured response to school safety issues and 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.

``Let's don't get carried away right out of the chute,'' Crandall said. ``Let's do this right, and let's make sure we do it in an area that has no other option. You're not going to have an SRO in a district with 8 kids ... and where you're 30-40 miles from any law enforcement.''

Another Crandall proposal that would take some excess funding from the Arizona Clean Elections Commission to help pay for school resource officers was pulled from consideration. Crandall said the resolution would have asked voters for permission to use the money but Senate lawyers pointed out that's not required for the minor change in the voter-approved law. So rather than try to get it on the ballot, Crandall said he'll try to push that idea in a regular Senate bill next year.

Arming teachers is opposed by the state educators union, which argues that only fully trained law enforcement officers should carry guns on campus. But the head of the union said he understands Crandall's position nonetheless.

``What I think Sen. Crandall is trying to do is strike a balance, and I get that,'' Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill said.

Morrill said he might be OK with retired officers being armed on campus, if they had some additional training.

Other school safety proposals in the wings include a proposal from Gov. Jan Brewer for a small increase in state funding for school officers in her budget proposal. House Democrats have a bill languishing that would double the amount Brewer wants.

The most sweeping proposal is being pushed by Attorney General Tom Horne would allow any teacher or administrator who received state-sanctioned training to have a gun on campus. That bill hasn't moved.

``I really think that you're seeing a lot of appropriate caution about who we're willing to have carry a firearm on campus,'' Morrill said.

Crandall said that's his thinking as well.

``I like this little more mellow, disciplined approach, rather than everybody, anytime, anywhere if you take a couple of classes,'' Crandall said.

In passing the bill 6-2 in the Appropriations Committee, Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Peoria, said it didn't go far enough.

``I think this is a step in the right direction,'' Murphy said. ``But by passing this bill we're basically saying we're making the rural schools safer than urban schools.''

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