Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Diane Douglas: Let Teachers Carry Guns

Posted By on Wed, Mar 14, 2018 at 9:17 AM

click to enlarge COURTESY OF BIGSTOCK
  • Courtesy of BigStock
Today is National Walkout Day, when students across the country are leaving class to remember the loss of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. It's a good time to note that Diane Douglas, our Superintendent of Public Instruction, is fine with the idea of teachers carrying guns in schools. More than fine, actually. She thinks teachers packing heat is just like having armed guards protecting banks. "Banks have security to keep our money safe," she said. "I think we should keep our children equally safe."

Douglas is standing ankle deep in the NRA Tar Pit. It might not be the best place for an educator facing an election to be stuck right now. The #NeverAgain and #VoteThemOut movements could help rid us of education's gun-crazy dinosaurs come November.

Douglas promoted arming teachers on the Bill Buckmaster show two weeks ago, but no one picked up on it, myself included, until Monday when the AZ Republic ran a story. After reading the article, I went back to the February 28 Buckmaster Show and listened myself.

Douglas used the bank-school comparison twice; she clearly came to the show prepared with the analogy and liked the way it sounded. And she went further, stating that Arizona law already allows teachers to be armed, citing Arizona Revised Statute 15-341 A23. She really loves ARS 15-341. She made sure to repeat the statute number three times so no one would miss her point.

The problem is, Douglas' interpretation of the statute is questionable.

ARS 15-341 states governing boards may
"prescribe and enforce policies and procedures that prohibit a person from carrying or possessing a weapon on school grounds unless the person is a peace officer or has obtained specific authorization from the school administrator."
According to the Republic article, Heidi Vega, spokeswoman for the Arizona School Boards Association, believes the language refers to someone like a police officer giving a talk in a classroom. I think the ASBA interpretation is correct, based on a close reading of the passage.

The language allows school administrators to grant "specific authorization" even if the governing board expressly prohibits weapons in school. That only makes sense if the permission is for an occasional, specific circumstance, like an officer talking to a class, or maybe a guest speaker talking about hunter safety who uses a rifle for the demonstration. If it is interpreted to refer to teachers or other employees having weapons, that would mean a principal could allow teacher carry even if the board has voted against it.

My reading revolves around the word "unless" which divides the passage into two parts. The first part states a governing board can "prescribe and enforce policies and procedures that prohibit a person from carrying or possessing a weapon on school grounds." That sounds like the board has the overriding authority on district gun policy. Then come the word "unless," which means what follows is an exception to the district policy. The exception is if "the person is a peace officer or has obtained specific authorization from the school administrator." (The use of the phrase "the school administrator" rather than "a school administrator," means it most likely refers just to the principal.)

If the exception refers to an occasional school visitor, that sounds reasonable. But if it means a principal can allow teachers to carry weapons on a regular basis regardless of district policy, that would render the board's decision little more than a strong recommendation. Even the superintendent wouldn't have a say in the matter. On a school by school basis, each principal would have the final decision on arming school employees. It's hard to believe that was the intention of the people crafting the passage.

I expect to hear legislators use Douglas' loose reading of ARS 15-341 to justify allowing teachers and other school employees carrying weapons. It would save them from putting a bill up for a vote, which could be politically risky, even in Arizona. No one can say for sure where the gun issue will be in November. Besides, a bill could fail, as it did when one was proposed in 2013. Which leads me to wonder, if Arizona law already allows teachers to carry weapons in school, why did they bother trying to pass a law in 2013?

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