PHOENIX -- Giving trained schoolteachers and staff access to firearms in storage lockers is a way to secure campuses when it isn't possible to provide resource officers, a state lawmaker contends.
"The danger in our schools is an issue that isn't going to go away unless we do something about it," said Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista. "Arming our teachers is the best option at this point."
Stevens authored HB 2412, which would allow a person to possess a deadly weapon on school grounds if he or she has completed training outlined in the bill and has been designated to do so by a school district or charter school governing board.
Dubbed the School Safety Designee Program, it would be optional for public or private schools.
It's currently against state law to have a firearm on a school campus unless the person is a law enforcement officer or has special permission.
The bill won an endorsement Feb. 26 from the House Appropriations Committee, with all three Democrats present voting against it. It was awaiting action on the House floor.
Stevens noted that the National Rifle Association proposed the idea in response to tragedies such as those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as a less-expensive alternative to putting resource officers in every school. He said a similar bill he introduced last year failed because it wouldn't have provided special training.
Attorney General Tom Horne, who proposed the change in Arizona, called the program a "golden mean" between allowing teachers to carry firearms and hiring resource officers for all schools.
"At least the students and staff won't be sitting ducks if a maniac comes into the school," he said.
Stevens noted that the Sierra Vista Unified School District has three resource officers for six elementary schools as well as its middle school and high school campuses. One officer is at Buena High School every day, while the others travel among schools as needed.
"If something bad happened, how long would it take for the officer to get there?" Stevens said. "If a teacher is trained with a firearm, they will be quicker to respond."
Candidates would receive training on how to clean, handle and store firearms, would take courses in marksmanship, judgmental shooting and other subjects and would be conditioned on how to use deadly force. They would have to repeat the training every year.
The Attorney General's Office would establish the standards for candidates and oversee certification.
The firearms would have to be stored in secure lockers and could only be removed from school grounds for training, cleaning and maintenance.
Both the Arizona School Board Association and the Arizona Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, registered as opposed to the bill. While neither organization explained its position to the committee, Horne said the Arizona School Boards Association indicated that it might support a bill applying only to rural schools a certain distance from the nearest police station.
Kent Scribner, superintendent of the Phoenix Union High School District, said in an interview that he opposes introducing more guns on campus.
"Trained and sworn officers should be the only ones ensuring our security," said Scribner, who oversees more 27,000 students on 16 campuses.
The district recently held a community forum on safety after shots were fired outside Cesar Chavez High School during an evening basketball game. No one was hurt or arrested.
Elgin Nelson, whose son attends Betty H. Fairfax High School, was at the forum. He said the last thing his neighborhood or the state needs is more access to guns.
"They allow this Wild, Wild West," Nelson said. "It's particularly irresponsible on the part of our state Legislature."
Rep. Andrew Sherwood, D-Tempe, who voted against the bill, said his office was inundated with calls from concerned community members.
"I am frustrated because I think we can do better," Sherwood said. "There is no proof guns in schools make it safer. We were elected to create jobs, but instead we are talking about guns again."
Reps. Stefanie Mach, D-Tucson, and Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, also voted against the bill.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the bill is a defense against maniacs.
"I have no doubt this bill is going to help Arizona and will pass," he said. "A lot of kids are going to die if there isn't someone in that school to protect them."