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Updated Dec 19, 2012 - 4:25 pm

Arizona group: Allowing guns in schools is overdue

PHOENIX — A group that advocates for pro-gun, state legislation said
Wednesday guns should be allowed in Arizona public schools to provide protection
against shootings such as the one in Connecticut.

“It’s long past time to, at the very least, allow our school faculty and staff
the option to be trained and armed,” the Arizona Citizens Defense League said
in a statement. “Only then will they be capable of dealing with a situation
like this.”

Amid public debate over what to do in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook
Elementary, the league is “now looking at things that can be done to heighten
security in schools,” spokesman Charles Heller said during an earlier
interview. “We hadn’t been before.”

Arizona law now generally bans taking guns on school grounds.

The statement by the league decried the violence in Connecticut and stopped
short of announcing a 2013 legislative proposal to allow guns on campuses.

Heller said his group is considering options, but he couldn’t discuss
specifics. The session starts in mid-January, and no proposed bills filed as yet
deal with gun issues.

A teachers union leader said everybody wants to protect students but allowing
school personnel to have guns on campuses would pose safety and security
threats, partly by opening the door to unintended consequences.

“That’s the last thing on their minds, to be carrying firearms in close
proximity to students,” said Arizona Education President Andrew Morrill.
“That’s not going to help.”

Gun control proposals went nowhere in the Republican-led Arizona Legislature
after the January 2011 shooting that wounded then-Congresswoman Gabrielle
Giffords in Tucson.

In the next two legislative sessions, state lawmakers twice approved bills to
allow guns in many public buildings without airport-style security and once to
allow them on higher-education campuses.

However, Republican Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed all three versions of those two
bills that reached her desk. She said in May her veto of the latest such bill
reflected public unease.

Matthew Benson, a Brewer spokesman, did not immediately respond to a request
for comment on the league’s statement.

Arizona has permissive gun laws and a Wild West heritage. Guns can be carried
openly, sometimes jolting newcomers, particularly in urban areas.

On Monday, Brewer sounded disinclined to weaken the right to bear arms in
response to the Connecticut shooting.

“I’m not sure if it’s something that needs to be addressed in that respect,”
Brewer said, adding that a stronger behavioral health system “would probably be
something that we ought to look into.”

Hildy Saizow, president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said relaxation of
gun-free zones at schools and other places would be “really extremist
legislation.”

Instead, now is the time to support national legislation that should include
toughening requirements for background checks of gun purchasers, Saizow said.

Alan Korwin, a Scottsdale author and publisher of books on gun laws, said the
media is whipping public sentiment into a “mob mentality” in favor of new gun
restrictions after the Connecticut shootings.

That ignores the benefits of allowing guns where they’re not now allowed, he
said.

Gun-free zones “enable criminals and infringe on the rights and abilities of
Americans to protect themselves and their children,” Korwin said. “We trust
teachers with our children. Certainly they should be qualified” to have guns at
schools.

An Arizona legislator who sponsored a bill after the 2011 Tucson shooting to
prohibit extended magazines that hold more than 10 bullets said it would be
dangerous to allow guns at schools.

“I do not see anything good of a massive arms race on our college campuses or,
God forbid, on our elementary schools,” said Rep. Steve Farley. “There’s no
good that’s going to come of that.”

Farley, a Tucson Democrat who becomes a state senator in January, said he won’t
re-introduce a new version of his bill in 2013. Such restrictions are best
handled by Washington to avoid a patchwork of state laws, he said.

Farley said he proposed the 2011 bill because Tucson shooter Jared Loughner
fired 30 shots from a handgun with an extended magazine. Six people were killed
and 13 injured in the attack, and Farley said there would have been less carnage
if Loughner had to reload sooner.

Farley’s bill died after not getting a hearing from a House committee.

Farley also said he wants the Legislature to consider providing adequate
funding for programs to identify and treat mentally ill people and to protect
children from physical abuse so they don’t develop psychological problems.

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