TUCSON — Arizona is advancing legislation that would allow schoolteachers to arm themselves in class.
The proposal cleared the state Senate this week and now heads to the state House.
Several other states have introduced measures to let teachers carry guns. The movement came after the National Rifle Assn. called for such legislation in light of the mass shooting last year in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first-graders were killed.
This month, South Dakota became the first state since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre to pass a law that specifically allows teachers and school employees to carry weapons on campus. Measures in other states have stalled.
In Arizona, SB 1325 would give school boards the ability to allow any employee to bear a concealed handgun, pistol or revolver on campus at rural schools. There are some caveats, however. The school would have to have fewer than 600 students, be more than 20 miles and 30 minutes away from the closest law enforcement facility and not have a school resource officer.
Sen. Rich Crandall, a Republican from Mesa, sponsored the bill, which passed the GOP-dominated Senate on a 17-11 vote Monday. Crandall did not return a call for comment.
It's unclear whether Gov. Jan Brewer, also a Republican, will support the bill. It's been her practice to wait until legislation passes both houses of the Legislature before she indicates whether she'll sign or veto it.
State Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, a Democrat from Phoenix, called the measure irresponsible.
"I think it's a knee-jerk reaction to something that could get us in a lot of trouble — that could further endanger the lives of children — because we don't know the level of responsibility or training that individual would have," Taylor said of the teachers and staff carrying handguns. "For instance, if they misplace it or, God forbid, have to take out the gun and use it for any reason, what is the tactical training? Will they accidentally kill a child in the crossfire?"
Taylor advocated arming trained school resource officers instead of teachers and other staff.
The bill does set a list of conditions for arming a school employee.
The person would need to possess a valid fingerprint clearance card, have a valid permit to own a gun and attend annual firearm training approved by the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. The firearm would need to remain concealed on the employee or stored in a gun locker maintained by the school.
In addition, the school board would have to consider the employee's temperament, personality and — if applicable — reactions to previous crises before giving that person clearance to carry a gun on campus.
Still, Taylor questioned whether a school board would be qualified to make such a determination.
"We're putting a school board in a precarious situation," Taylor said.