Things are heating up in our state legislature as we approach the mid-point of this year’s session.
Attorney General Tom Horne and Rep David Stevens (R-Sierra Vista) are advocating passage of HR 2656, which would allow school districts to designate employees who would have access to a gun that is kept in a secure firearm locker at the school. In the event of a shooter coming onto campus, such a designated employee could get the campus gun and respond. Significantly, the bill requires that these employees would only be required to complete 3 days of weapons training focusing on an active shooter scenario, together with “mental conditioning on the use of deadly force”, marksmanship and use of prudent judgement in responding to potential threats.
In a February 20 editorial titled “Arming teachers, principals won’t make schools safer”, the Arizona Daily Star describes the bill as “an attempt at school safety on the cheap”. The editorial recalls that school resource officers, who worked from schools, were common in Tucson districts until budget cuts eliminated these positions. The author goes on to state that arming teachers or other employees – especially when only 3 days of training are required to assume this role – is not a replacement for properly trained officers on campus.
While I tend to support allowing school districts to authorize school personnel who are highly trained in weaponry to respond to a shooter’s presence, I have serious qualms concerning the can of worms this would open up. For one thing, do we really want our teachers and principals to put their lives on the line in this manner? And suppose that the “designated gun” is kept in a safe in the principal’s office on the third floor, while the designated “responding employee” is on the first floor on the opposite side of the building. In this scenario numerous students and teachers would most likely be slain before the employee could effectively confront the shooter. And I totally agree with the Star’s questioning the wisdom of entrusting volunteer school employees with this awesome responsibility – especially when they have received less that one week’s training in this vitally important area. And how would a teacher feel if in he or she inadvertently misfired and killed a child while attempting to target the shooter? My advice to the bill’s sponsors – back to the drawing board on this one. As the Star’s editorial wisely concludes, “Our efforts should be on preventing attacks from happening in the first place.”
Significantly, Rep. John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills), has proposed three bills dealing with gun safety, two of which are concerned with preventing shootings. All three bills were approved by a House panel this Wednesday and have been forwarded to the full House for a vote.
In advocating passage of HB 2555, which would require teachers and health professionals to report potentially dangerous people to the police, Kavanagh correctly cites that teachers and officials at Pima College were fully aware of Jared Lee Loughner’s bizarre behavior before he killed six innocent people and wounded 13 others, including Congresswoman Giffords, two years ago. Despite the fact that college officials ruled that Loughner’s aberant behavior constituted grounds for suspension, they failed to notify the police or order a mental health evaluation.
The legislative panel also approved HB 2618, also sponsored by Kavanagh, which would require additional training for police cadets to be able to assess persons for signs of serious mental illness so that a psychiatric team could be called in to conduct a thorough mental health status evaluation.
Significantly, existing law provides a precedent for the required reporting of potentially dangerous persons by teachers and health professionals. Currently, health professionals, social workers and mental health professionals are required to report to authorities any communication with their clients that provides grounds for suspicion that the client may be guilty of either child or spousal abuse. And in California, and possibly other states, under the duty to inform doctrine psychotherapists are required to inform the possible intended victim of any communication with a client that suggests that the client may intend to harm that individual.
I support both bills proposed by Rep. Kavanagh as responsible measures to protect the public safety. In support of these measures, Kavanagh has assured lawmakers that the Department of Health Services would distribute information instructing teachers how to exercise due discretion in identifying true problems that warrant reporting. I would also recommend that the measures be expanded to require in-service training for teachers, health professionals and police officers on appropriate and responsible reporting as a safeguard against abuse.
The panel also gave the go-ahead to a third Kavanagh measure that would make it easier for persons to bring their guns into public buildings. Under HB 2554, Kavanaugh proposes that a government agency seeking to keep armed citizens out of designated buildings would need to provide lockers within 200 feet of the building entrance for individuals to store their guns. Critics of this proposal consider it an overreaction, and express concern over requiring taxpayers to foot the bill for mandated gun lockers as a prerequisite for declaring a public building a gun-free zone.
In response to these criticisms, Kavanagh states that agencies or communities that don’t want to install gun lockers can simply allow people to carry their guns into the building.
I wholeheartedly disagree with Kavanagh on this particular measure. In these trying times in which all governmental agencies are subjected to serious financial pressures, an agency that wants to designate any of its buildings as a gun-free zone should be free to do so without having to install lockers for the convenience of those carrying weapons. A prominent sign banning weapons should be sufficient – and persons carrying guns should either leave their weapons at home or store them elsewhere before entering a building designated as a gun-free zone.
Arizona Daily Star Editorial, February 20, 2013, “Arming teachers, principals won’t make schools safer”
Arizona Daily Star front page article, February 21, 2013, “Teachers, clinics are asked to spot next Loughner”