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Democrats reopen the gun debate at the Arizona Legislature

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Democrats in both the state Senate and House of Representatives unveiled packages last week aimed at reducing gun violence by expanding background checks, limiting the capacity of ammo clips and increasing funding for services for the mentally ill.

But with Gov. Jan Brewer opposed to new gun restrictions and Republicans controlling both chambers of the statehouse, it remains to be seen if the legislation has much chance of advancing.

Sen. Linda Lopez, a Democrat who represents Tucson's south side, introduced her package last week while standing alongside members of the group Arizonans for Gun Safety.

"I think the time is ripe," Lopez says. "After every tragedy we've had in the past, from Tucson to the theater in Colorado, the uproar dies down, people say, 'Oh, this is terrible but we can't do anything about it,' and so on. But it seems now that citizens are really outraged about what's going on. It's time to capitalize on that."

Lopez's plan includes:

• A universal background check on gun sales that would require a federally licensed firearms dealer to oversee all gun sales, including sales of used guns between individuals, whether at gun shows or garage sales.

• Banning ammunitions clips that could carry more than 10 rounds.

• Repealing a recently passed state law that requires cities, towns and counties to sell guns that are confiscated as a result of crimes rather than destroy them.

Lopez says she opposes the idea, floated by Attorney General Tom Horne, of having an armed teacher or administrator at each school.

"To me, that just furthers the culture of violence," says Lopez, who would rather see more school counselors hired.

"Our counselors in the schools are so overwhelmed, it's all they can do to just help kids get class schedules, let along try to work with kids who have issues and try to help kids head off these things or get them the services they might need," Lopez says.

Lopez concedes that Brewer has already announced her opposition to new gun restrictions, but said that she hopes that "there are some folks on the other side of the aisle who, as a result of the some of the horrific tragedies that we've had, have had their hearts and their minds changed about this."

While she was still crafting the legislation last week, Lopez told the Weekly that she had yet to find any Republican co-sponsors for the legislation.

Charles Heller, the communications director for Arizona Citizens Defense League, predicted that Lopez's proposals would be DOA at the Capitol.

"I don't think they'll see the light of day," Heller said. "And I think that's wonderful. ... (The proposals) are not conducive to solving the problem." Heller was equally skeptical of a proposal by House of Representatives Minority Leader Chad Campbell, who unveiled the Arizona Safer Schools, Safer Communities Plan.

Campbell wants to spend about $261 million on initiatives to improve school safety and treatment for the mentally ill. That includes an extra $161 million on more funding for programs for the mentally ill, as well as an additional $62 million for school counselors, $17 million on School Resource Officers, $20 million for grants for enhanced school security, and $1 million for schools to develop their own security plans.

Campbell also wants to ensure that background checks are done on all sales at gun shows, require background checks on all sales of "assault weapons," reinstate the requirement that Arizonans take a class in gun safety before they can legally carry a concealed weapon, and allow local jurisdictions to be able to destroy firearms acquired through seizure or buyback programs.

"We've seen incident after incident around the country and here in Arizona," says Campbell, who is exploring a potential campaign for governor in 2016. "I think something needs to be done. We need to tackle it head-on and in a common-sense way, try to avoid the rhetoric and try to avoid the ideological extremes. ... and offer some real solutions."

Heller said that the best solution to school safety would be to allow military veterans and retired police officers to patrol schools.

"You wouldn't have to pay them," Heller said. "The most it would cost you is a nice pair of uniformed slacks and a golf shirt. And you'd have to buy them a name tag. And you'd probably want to give them a baseball cap. They could bring their own gun."

While he wants to expand the School Resource Officer program, Campbell said he did not support the recent actions of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who has assigned volunteer members of his posse to armed patrols outside of Maricopa County Schools, or the calls to arm teachers.

"The idea of arming teachers or putting volunteer guards on school campuses is a horrible idea," Campbell said. "What happens the first time a teacher actually shoots a student or another teacher or a parent? ... The psychology impact, the potential liability—God only knows the nightmare that would be were it to actually happen. You need to have trained law enforcement, who are trained specifically to work on campuses."

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