PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey wants to close some reporting loopholes when background checks are done on gun buyers, but has no interest in requiring every firearm sale go through that system.
In what the governor’s staff billed Monday as a comprehensive plan designed to deal with gun violence, Ducey is proposing to allow police to immediately take a firearm from someone they have “probable cause” to believe is a danger to self or others. A judge would have to hold a hearing within 24 hours to determine whether the person needs treatment.
A parallel plan would permit family members, counselors, teachers and roommates to petition a court for what Ducey is calling a Severe Threat Order of Protection, or STOP. That would pave the way for a court hearing where a judge could order someone to be evaluated for up to 21 days, during which time the person could not purchase or possess a gun.
The plan allows a six-month extension after a court order.
If a judge agrees, any guns would have to be either removed from the house or locked up so the person under a STOP order does not have access to them.
Gubernatorial policy adviser Daniel Ruiz said evidence from Arizona shows that could make a difference, citing the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson by Jared Loughner that killed six and injured 13 including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“Jared Loughner actually was feared by his parents,” Ruiz said. “His parent would take away his gun at night ... because they feared he was a danger to himself or to others.”
Teachers and counselors see this option as important, said Dawn Wallace, the governor’s education adviser.
She said they know which kids are having problems and could cause troubles. Wallace said permitting them to seek a court order will help them “get that young person help.”
Anyone under a STOP order would not only lose access to his or her firearms, but also would be entered into a federal database, making them ineligible to purchase a new gun in the interim, said gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato.
“The governor does not believe that people who are dangerous or a threat should have weapons,” Scarpinato said.
But Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, a trauma surgeon who treated Giffords after the shooting, said there’s a very obvious loophole to that: It leaves it legal for those who want a gun to go to a gun show or any other private seller and obtain it without a background check.
“Why take away someone’s weapon who is dangerous and allow them to walk around the corner and buy one at a gun show without a background check?” Friese asked.
Ducey’s plan also seeks to close what Scarpinato said are loopholes in the current background-check system.
For example, he said, the state’s computerized criminal-history database has less than two-thirds of the actual criminal records. That is due at least in part to what the governor’s staff says are “antiquated paper filing systems.”
That state system feeds into the national database used by gun dealers to determine if someone is legally entitled to have a firearm. Ducey’s plan would put $600,000 a year for the next three years into updating the system, with the eventual goal of having criminal histories entered within 24 hours.
Rep. Daniel Hernandez, D-Tucson, who was an aide to Giffords and who was with her at the shooting, said this, too, comes up short as long as anyone can buy firearms at gun shows.
“If people don’t take part in the process and are not subject to a background check, then what good is it to invest $600,000 of Arizona taxpayer dollars to fix a system if you’re not going to make people use it?” he asked.
Scarpinato brushed aside repeated questions about why, if Ducey wants a better database to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, he would allow people to buy firearms outside that system. He said the governor’s concern is people who purchased their firearms legally and then went on to commit mass murders.
“That is where the problem lies and that is what this seeks to solve,” Scarpinato said. “This is what we’re addressing. This protects public safety and balancing that with the Second Amendment rights of Arizonans.”
House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, would not say whether she and fellow Democrats will support the plan as it is. Aside from closing the “gun show loophole,” they also want a ban on “bump stocks,” which allow a semiautomatic weapon to fire hundreds of rounds a minute — a ban that’s not in the Ducey plan.
Other elements of what the governor is seeking are not about guns, at least not directly.
The plan also proposes allowing public schools to bill the Medicaid program for mental-health services for students whose family incomes qualify them for the program. That is about $50,000 a year for a family of four.
That will allow small school districts that do not have regular counselors to contract with someone, even on a part-time basis, said Christina Corieri, the governor’s health-policy adviser. For larger schools, she said the money collected in Medicaid reimbursement would free up other dollars to provide more counselors for other students who are ineligible for the program.
Corieri figures that putting $2 million of state dollars into the program this coming school year will leverage another $6 million in federal funds.
There also is a plan to have more school-resource officers — police assigned to campuses — though the governor’s staff had no dollar figures.
Wallace said the governor’s staff is also looking at some no-cost options, such as allowing schools to use retired police officers and others who are still certified law enforcement officers as volunteers.
The proposal suggests that schools make office space available for police, if for no other reason than having them do their paperwork there for other assignments means an officer is on or near the campus.
There also are proposals to ensure that schools have plans in place for “active shooter” situations.