PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona lawmakers are weighing a trio of public safety measures that would help teachers and police officers identify mentally ill people, while also giving the public more access to guns.
Republican lawmakers said state law needs to evolve after a series of violent shootings that prompted a national debate on gun control and mental health. But critics said any efforts to make guns more accessible will only contribute to the problem.
The debate over the three measures introduced by Republican Rep. John Kavanagh played out Wednesday during the House public safety committee. Kavanagh said he wants to help combat tragedies like the deadly shooting rampage that left six people dead and 13 wounded outside a Tucson grocery store in 2011.
One bill would require educators and health professionals to report a student if they have evidence that person is a danger. The vote passed 4-3 after critics said teachers could abuse the measure and report students for minor incidents or based on personal grudges.
"The language is exceptionally broad," Republican Rep. Eddie Farnsworth said. "You are going to have teachers who are reporting kids who are a danger, but not a real danger."
Kavanagh said the proposed law is necessary to catch students like Jared Lee Loughner, who pleaded guilty for shooting then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others in 2011. After the shooting, Loughner was diagnosed with schizophrenia and underwent forcible psychotropic drug treatments.
"School officials knew about this and nobody really thought to call the police," Kavanagh said.
Committee members also approved a measure after some heated debate that would make guns more accessible by limiting government bans on firearms in public spaces. The bill seeks to require government officials to put up clear signs at all entrances detailing the location of a firearm locker.
The lockers may be kept in a nearby building, but must be stored close enough to allow the owner to quickly retrieve the weapon. If a locker is not provided, a weapons ban cannot be enforced.
Kavanagh said many governments don't provide storage lockers, which inconveniences gun owners, who must find a location to store their weapon while at the public place. It also encourages non-compliance because gun owners unable to find a storage box often decide to enter the building with the weapon regardless of the gun ban, he said.
Kavanagh said he had a message for governments that don't want to pay for storage boxes or a weapons monitor: "Just don't ban the guns."
Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego said it would be unfair to pass on an unfunded mandate to governments that don't want guns in public buildings.
"I'm sorry there are some people who live in a state of paranoia where they have to have their weapon with them at all times," he said.
Proponents called it a reasonable measure.
"They are all paranoid because there are crazy, evil people out there," Republican Rep. Sonny Borrelli said.
The committee also advanced in a 7-0 vote a measure that would require training for police officers and cadets on how to handle seriously mentally ill or violent suspects.
Cristina Silva can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/cristymsilva.