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AZ Senate Committee Approves Guns on Campus Bill

A Senate panel voted Monday to override rules which now ban guns on college and university campuses. But  some of the supporters appear not entirely convinced.

The legislation would let schools keep buildings and classrooms gun-free -- but only if they post signs at the doors and only if they buy and install lockers for each building so students, faculty and visitors can secure their weapons. But the measure contains no money for their purchase. National Rifle Association lobbyist Brent Gardner said concerns are overblown. He said while Arizona law allows anyone to carry a concealed weapon, this measure limits the right to bring one onto a campus to those who have a state permit.

"The notions that we heard today," said Gardner, "the idea that folks who are legally allowed to carry elsewhere -- here in the state of Arizona we have 162,881 active permits, these individuals who are carrying in our grocery stores, out in public, everywhere else, that suddenly when they step foot across an imaginary boundary onto a college campus become homicidal maniacs. We've not experiencing that anywhere."

But John Thomas, representing the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, said many of the training requirements that used to exist for a Conceal-Carry Weapon (CCW) permit no longer exist. 

"So you can take a course where you never handle a firearm," said Thomas, "You can take it online. Because, again, there are no minimum requirements for concealed carry any more. So when they're carrying concealed carry on campus, they may have a weapon, they may have a permit. But they may never have shot that weapon that they're carrying."

That concerned Sen. Adam Driggs.

"I'm being asked to determine which is more likely," said Driggs, "That a CCW permit holder will able to be a hero against a deranged individual who means harm on a campus, or whether that same hero is more likely to miss his target and injure someone. And I don't think I'm in a position where I could make that determination."

Still, Driggs ended up voting with the Republican majority to support the change. That, however, was not the case with fellow Republican Sen. Steve Yarbrough who said he has grave concerns that the requirements to obtain a permit have been overly diluted -- changes he admitted he supported in the past.

"I've never voted in my knowledge against what one could call a gun bill," said Yarbrough. "I consider myself an extremely staunch supporter of the Second Amendment. However, my concerns about the CCW training, which is really the lynchpin of this measure causes me at this point to vote no."

Other Republicans, like Sen. Rick Murphy, had no such concerns, saying the question is simple. 

"You either have a constitutional right to protect yourself," said Murphy, "or you don't, and the government either has the right to take that away, or they don't. And it's really not a matter of opinion about what people like or don't like. Personally, I didn't feel safe when I was on college campuses simply because I couldn't carry."

Democratic Sen. David Lujan said if lawmakers are bound and determined to make this the law, they should at least address the fact that the legislation sets no limit on the number of concealed weapons a person could have. He said that would allow someone to bring a gym bag packed with guns onto a campus. But Sen. Ron Gould, the sponsor of the legislation, was noncommittal about making that change.

The 5-3 vote sends the measure to the full Senate.