PHOENIX — Beaten back two years in a row, Gov. Doug Ducey may take one more stab at enacting legislation to allow parents and school officials to ask judges to take guns away from people who are a danger to themselves or others.
“We thought it was good policy then,” press aide C.J. Karamargin told Capitol Media Services Wednesday in the wake of the shooting in Texas that left 19 students and two teachers dead.
“We still do,” he said. “And we remain committed to measures to increase school safety.”
Ducey did manage to get his plan out of the Senate in 2018 by agreeing to dilute some of the provisions, only to have the House refuse to take it up.
A subsequent bid in 2019 fared no better. And Ducey has not brought it up since amid opposition from the fellow Republicans who control both the House and Senate.
“Politics intervened,” the governor told Capitol Media Services at the time.
But Karamargin said his boss never has completely given up on the idea.
“We thought then, and still do, it was a common-sense plan that protects the Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens while keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals who are a lethal threat,” he said.
The current legislative session is at a point where new policy bills are not supposed to be introduced.
In fact, the session should have wrapped up a month ago. But lawmakers remain at the Capitol because they have yet to approve a spending plan for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.
But Ducey has the constitutional power to call lawmakers into a special session — even one that runs concurrently with the regular session — to address specific issues. And Karamargin said he will not rule that out, saying a decision is “undetermined at this time.”
Any bill the governor would ask be enacted would go to a highly divided legislature.
In a floor speech Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said the reason children were murdered in Texas is directly attributable to the lack of action by not just Republicans in the U.S. Senate on gun-reform legislation but also “by state legislatures just like ours that refuse to act to end the gun violence epidemic in this country but rather send a nicely packaged ‘thought and prayers’ message.”
That drew a sharp response from Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray, R-Sun City, who said that it’s not the lack of gun laws that lead to mass shootings.
“For decades we’ve been teaching our children in school there is no God,” he said.
“You can’t pray, you can’t even pray on the field,” Gray said. “There are no absolutes.”
Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said there are things that could help — if only the Republican majority would allow them to be considered.
He ticked off a list of measures introduced by Democrats this year which did not even get a hearing. These include requiring parents to ensure that children do not have access to firearms and requiring a background check for all gun sales, including those person-to-person sales at gun shows.
And there was something else: allow judges to order a “severe threat order of protection” to remove weapons, at least temporarily, from the hands of those who present a danger to themselves or others.
That is pretty much what Ducey proposed in 2018 and again in 2019 — and may be willing to make one more try before he leaves office at the end of the year.
The plan actually was based on a study by the governor’s office of prior mass shootings, including what were at the time the deadliest school shootings in the last 20 years. Ducey said that requires increased law enforcement and increased mental and behavioral health resources.
But the governor also said there are flaw in current laws on who can have a gun.
“Individuals who either suffer from mental illness or appears to be a danger to themselves or others are not necessarily prohibited form purchasing or accessing a firearm,” his plan stated.
And as proof he cited the 2008 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by Jared Loughner, pointing out that he had been he had been dismissed from Pima Community College, something he never completed. And Loughner’s parents had taken away his shotgun fearing he was a danger to himself and others.
Ducey said a procedure for STOP orders could have prevented that — and could prevent future incidents.
It would allow family members, law enforcement, school administrators allowed to seek a court order to keep people from purchasing or possessing weapons for some period of time. Ducey, in an interview with Capitol Media Services at the time, defended the idea of letting others trigger a mental health exam of those who may be dangerous.
“This law was brought together by superintendents and principals and teachers,” he said, people who want to remove guns from dangerous individuals before they show up at school.
Part of what the governor said at the time may have been working against the legislation is that Arizona has not had the kind of school shootings that have plagued other states. Ducey said that’s irrelevant.
“Why would this only be the focus in response to one of these school shootings?” he asked. “Why can’t we do something proactively?”
The governor acknowledged the opposition the measure faced from the National Rifle Association and the Arizona Citizens Defense League, both of which raised questions about the plan.
Both are likely to raise renewed objections. But Ducey said that should not be a barrier.
“I believe we can get the full school safety package passed,” he said. And Ducey said if there’s a problem with that, “the onus is on us as elected leaders, the onus is on the legislature to make the right vote.”
But current legislators — the ones who would have to consider such a plan — have their own ideas about dealing with school shootings.
“I think the solution is we need to arm our schools, plain and simple,” said Sen. Kelli Townsend, R-Apache Junction. And that, she said, includes volunteer veterans, police — and teachers.
“The thing that stops this is equal force,” she said.
“Are you kidding me?” responded Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, who is a teacher. And she said this comes as Republicans are saying the law needs to be amended because teachers can’t be trusted to decide how they can teach and what they can say about race, a reference to legislation to ban what foes call “critical race theory.”
“And now you’re suggesting you do trust them, though, to carry guns to school?” Marsh said. “I mean, give me a break.”
The governor himself has been cool to the idea, saying in 2018 in the wake of a mass shooting in Florida that he doesn’t see arming teachers as a way to deal with school violence.
“I want to see our teachers be put in a position where they can teach our kids,” he said. And Ducey said security — and weapons — should be the job of school resource officers, “people that are there in charge of security so the teachers can go ahead and teach,” he said.
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