Catching a bullet: Preventing gun violence


Aztec Press photo illustration by Eric Freitchen

The need to avert gun violence in schools has risen since the Newtown, Conn., massacre last year, but Arizona lawmakers are stumped trying to find solutions.

On Dec. 26, 2012, shortly after Connecticut’s Sandy Hook shootings, Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne issued his ideas to avert another massacre.

His ideal solution was having an armed police officer in every public Arizona school, as suggested by the National Rifle Association, but budget costs constrained that notion.

“The next best solution is to have one person in the school trained to handle firearms, to handle emergency situations, and possessing a firearm in a secure location,” Horne said.


Horne’s proposal was drafted as House Bill 2656 by Rep. David Stevens, R-Dist. 14. One appointee per public school would have 24 hours of gun handling training under the instruction of Arizona’s police force.

After training, the designee would stow the gun in a lockbox and have sole access.

Horne’s proposal received criticism from educators and parents. Some instructors cited discomfort at having a gun in school while parents shared uncertainty over the proposal.

The proposal suffers from too many “what if?” scenarios. Horne’s intentions to prevent gun violence could inadvertently become a trigger for more.


Arizona Education Association President Andrew Morrill said, “You don’t reduce the violence on Arizona campuses or anywhere by increasing the number of firearms on campus.”

History supports this.

Consider the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students.

Jefferson County deputy sheriff Neil Gardner, armed with a .45 semiautomatic pistol, was patrolling the school’s northwest parking lot when the shooting started.

His presence did not prevent the mass shooting or the shooters from taking their own lives, though he thought he played a small role.

“I think with exchanging fire it did allow some people that were fleeing the scene to get out of the building,” Gardner said in a 1999 Dateline NBC interview.


A 2012 shooting near the Empire State Building offers another perspective. A shootout between two men at the tower’s base led to immediate response from the New York Police Department.

When the NYPD fatally shot the assailant, nine bystanders were injured in the crossfire. The NYPD now faces a lawsuit.

The Empire State Building is not an educational facility, but it is a location where law enforcement officers were readily prepared.

By comparison, Horne’s proposal of having a gun readily prepared in a lockbox implies unthinkable repercussions.


What other Arizona proposals might see the light?

Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Dist. 14, suggested increasing school resource officers, tightening state gun laws and improving treatment for the mentally ill.

His versatile approach would cost $160 million and take $58 million out of this year’s state budget, according to news reports.

Campbell’s proposal would also require re-establishing gun laws in a state where Gov. Jan Brewer allowed concealed weapons for individuals 21 and older without a permit.


Brewer faced scrutiny from Mark Kelly, husband of former Tucson congresswoman and shooting survivor Gabrielle Giffords.

“We have a political class that is afraid to do something as simple as have a meaningful debate about our gun laws and how they are being enforced,” Kelly said. “After Columbine; after Virginia Tech; after Tucson and after Aurora we have done nothing.”

Kelly made those comments on Nov. 8, 2012. Now, he can add Sandy Hook to the list as he and Giffords continue their fight to reform gun laws.

If putting guns into school lockboxes or tightening gun legislation yields no results, will understanding the minds of the killers prevent further violence?


Angela Robinson, president of Arizona School Counselors Association, calls counselors the pulse of the school. “Your school counselor knows every student in the school.”

She could be right, but few people had ever heard of Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Jared Lee Loughner, Adam Lanza, James Holmes or Charles Whitman until after they made headlines.

Will placing guns in schools prevent further gun violence?

Russian playwright Anton Chekhov didn’t seem to think so.

“One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it,” Chekhov wrote in 1889.

Horne’s proposal sets up Chekhov’s gun. If you’re squeamish, don’t wait around for Act Three.

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