PHOENIX (AP) - The Republican chair of the Arizona Senate committee considering Gov. Doug Ducey’s wide-ranging school safety proposal vowed Thursday to ensure that any plan that passes the GOP-controlled Legislature would protect gun rights and have support from the National Rifle Association.
Sen. Steve Smith made the statement at the opening of the Commerce and Public Safety Committee meeting, emphasizing that major provisions allowing guns to be taken from people deemed to be imminent threats contain protections sought by gun rights supporters. Smith pointedly said “no” when asked if his proposal included universal background checks for firearm purchases, a top priority of Democrats.
“Pridefully, mind you, I’m A-plus rated by the NRA, I have 100 percent voting record with the Arizona Citizens Defense League. I intend on keeping it that way,” Smith said. “I am not going to run a piece of legislation that I think runs afoul to our Constitutionally protected 2nd Amendment rights.”
“However, there are sensible things we can do that we’re not doing today to just protect the people, protect our schools,” he added.
Smith’s comments brought a quick retort from a Democratic senator, who asked if he had indeed said the proposal was backed by the NRA. He said he had.
“Mr. Chair, you just sucked everything out of me that was even maybe a positive yes vote with that statement,” Sen. Catherine Miranda said.
The opening comments set the stage for an hourslong hearing on the multi-pronged proposal, which includes a new way for family members and school officials to get a court order to remove firearms from people deemed imminent threats. Separately, police can get an emergency order to take someone into custody for a mental health evaluation and confiscate their guns.
The proposal also contains $11 million to nearly double the number of police officers assigned to schools, money to modernize the state’s background check reporting system and offer behavioral health treatment and a new way to get volunteer reserve police officers into schools.
Smith said the bill will change as it moves through the Legislature. It advanced on a party-line 4-3 vote Thursday and now goes to the full Senate for debate.
The governor rolled out the plan nearly two months ago, but its lack of universal background checks lost possible support from Democrats. That left GOP lawmakers stuck with having to ensure the proposal didn’t lose any votes from members who are not willing to take a hit from the NRA and gun rights groups. As a result, it was watered-down to draw backing from conservative Republicans.
The most concerning part of Ducey’s plan for the gun rights groups are new “Severe Threat Order of Protection” (STOP) provisions that allow a legal guardian, family member or school official to ask a judge to order a mental evaluation and to remove a person’s firearms.
Those provisions now require a series of court hearings and a judge’s determination that there is “clear and convincing” evidence of a threat before a person can be detained for evaluation. It also no longer allows guns to be seized after some orders, instead giving someone the ability to give their guns to a friend or family member.
That brought applause from David Kopp with the gun rights group Arizona Citizens Defense League. Kopp said he didn’t oppose the measure now but wants more money spent to “harden” schools and suggested arming teachers.
“It’s supposed to be a school safety bill,” he said.
The founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, Geraldine Hills, told Smith that her group wants universal background checks, laws requiring adults to responsibly store firearms, more funding for school counselors and a “real extreme threat order.”
“This bill addresses none of those things. So you may proud of your NRA rating, but this bill rates about a D-minus,” Hills said. “This bill won’t keep schools safe, won’t stop mass shootings, will not prevent further deaths or injuries in the state of Arizona. We’re getting tired and you’re not listening, you’re listening to the gun lobby and we’re tired.”
The legislation is Senate Bill 1519
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