PHOENIX - State lawmakers took the first steps Tuesday to letting teachers legally carry weapons, at least in a limited number of schools for now.
The 6-2 vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee would allow a school board to authorize any teacher or administrator to carry a concealed weapon anywhere in the school, with training.
But SB 1325, proposed by Sen. Rich Crandall, R-Mesa, would be limited pretty much to small rural schools for now, under the premise they are too far from law enforcement to get a rapid response if needed. The proposal applies only to schools with fewer than 600 students that are more than 30 minutes and 20 miles away from the closest law enforcement facility. It also would allow teachers and administrators to be armed only if the school does not already have an armed police officer serving as a school resource officer.
The measure now goes to the full Senate.
Rep. David Stevens, R-Sierra Vista, said he hopes to expand the scope of the legislation when the measure reaches the House. Stevens had a bill to allow an armed teacher at all of the state's more than 2,000 public schools, but his measure was introduced too late to get a hearing of its own.
Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, called Crandall's bill "a step in the right direction" that does not go far enough. "We're now, by passing this bill as is, basically saying we're going to make the rural schools safer than we are the more urban schools," Murphy said. He questioned the reason for any sort of limit, whether time or distance, because in an emergency, time is critical.
Crandall, however, said it makes sense to take a more limited approach to eliminating what has been a ban on anyone but police carrying weapons in schools.
Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, added language to allow retired police officers with at least 10 years service, who are now working as teachers or administrators, to also be armed at any school in the state.