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Special: Debate over gun violence in schools divides Arizona experts

PHOENIX — Hosts Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes hosted a special three-hour show Thursday on KTAR News 92.3 FM to talk about one issue: gun violence in schools.

The pair interviewed leaders from the fields of education, law and firearms to gather their opinions in the wake of last week’s school shooting that left 17 dead at a Florida high school.

Below are all three interviews along with brief summaries of what each guest said. You can watch Pamela’s reaction, which we recorded after the show, above.

Joe Thomas, president of Arizona Education Association

Thomas said America has talked for far too long about gun violence in schools, primarily because our country doesn’t show initiative to solve the issue until another finger is on a trigger.

“Our students deserve that we think much more deeply about this,” he said. “If we’re waiting to address this issue when a gunman is on campus opening fire on students, if we believe that is our point of change, then we have failed our students already.”

After the Florida shooting, some renewed the call for teachers to carry guns to protect students. Thomas said he’s heard some educators would quit if they were required to do so and it should be seen as a last resort.

“The idea of teachers carrying a firearm is an idea born of frustration,” he said. “It is where you’re throwing your hands up in the air and saying, ‘Well, we can’t do anything else.'”

Thomas said instead that more could be done to solve the issue of school shootings, but those steps won’t solve mass shootings as a whole.

“There’s a larger issue here,” he said.

Former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods

Woods said a potential ban on weapon modifications, such as bump stocks, and a raise in the minimum age to buy a rifle were “basic, incremental steps” but he wanted to see more than that.

“Those weapons of war have no place in the hands of civilians,” he said. “To me, that’s common sense. Why? Why do people need these? Because it’s fun?”

Woods said putting strict gun control laws in place would not stop every crime involving a gun.

“If you had massive gun control, are you going to end gun violence? Are you going to end guns being used in crimes? No, you’re not going to do that.”

However, he said the United States used to ban certain weapons and argued that reinstating that ban may lead to lower body counts.

“We used to ban it. It was banned in the United States until our recent history because it made common sense.”

The former attorney general also said he would be open to making schools so-called “hard targets” — basically, a facility with better security that may include armed guards — though he would not be thrilled about it.

“Maybe it makes sense that we have one point of entry,” he said. “Maybe it makes sense that we have an armed guard at every school. We’re going to have to work on funding and how does that all work (but) we could do that.”

Dave Laird, director of training at C2 Tactical

Laird said he was concerned a ban on some modifications — such as bump stocks — could overreach and prohibit modifications designed to make weapons more consistent.

“If you do anything to the firearm to make it operate anything other than [semi-automatic], you’re going to be held under state law and probably federal law,” he said.

Laird also said a ban could lead to people trying to make their own firearms while removing rights guaranteed to Americans.

“One of my fears is that we slowly strip away our rights until it’s no longer there and I think we’ve already given enough leverage already,” he said.

Instead of guns, Laird said the national conversation should be focused on solving other symptoms of the shooting disease.

“We need to start talking about mental health, we need to start talking about putting security systems in the school, we need to start protecting the kids and stop talking about the gun or the flagrant moron who grabbed it and did something evil with it,” he said.

Laird said a security system for a school that would include a separate alarm and allow teachers to lock every door would run about $400,000, a price he would help pay.

“We don’t need the federal government to do that,” he said. “We can band together as parents, get a GoFundMe account, let’s start pushing our board of directors of local school and say, ‘Listen, I want parents to donate whatever they have, and I’ll tell you what: I would be one of the first ones to throw $1,000 in that direction.”

He also said he was working on a bill that would allow teachers to carry non-lethal weapons — think Tasers, batons or other devices — on campus in an effort to protect kids.


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