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More leaders calling for guns in schools

CASEY MCNERTHNE, Connecticut Post
Updated 7:37 pm, Saturday, December 29, 2012
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After the Newtown shooting that left 20 students and six educators dead, the National Rifle Association CEO called for armed guards at all school before kids returned from holiday breaks.

Now the Arizona attorney general and a Washington State lawmaker are among those backing the idea of armed school staff – though opponents say addressing mental health issues should be the top priority.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne said an armed police officer in every school would be ideal, and noted some schools already have armed resource officers to handle emergencies and interact with students. But budget constraints could limit the expansion of such officers.

"In that case, the next best solution is to have one person in the school trained to handle firearms, to handle emergency situations, and possessing a firearm in a secure location," Horne said in a statement. "This proposal is analogous to arming pilots on planes."

Sheriff's of three counties backed Horne's proposals, and Arizona Rep. David Gowan (R-Sierra Vista), Majority Leader in the Arizona House, has agreed to introduce legislation to amend Arizona law needed to make the kind of proposal consistent with the law.

The idea, Horne said, is to decrease the possibility of another Newtown shooting.

An analysis by Hearst Connecticut Newspapers shows firearm sales in Connecticut soared in 2012, reflecting a dramatic decade-long rise as residents armed themselves in an era of growing concerns about horrific crimes – such as the Newtown school massacre – and more restrictive gun laws,.

Sales of handguns and long guns in the state are nearing 80,000 for 2012, more than triple the number sold in 2000. Since the Dec. 14 school massacre, gun stores in several states have seen a surge in demand for firearms, ammunition and bulletproof gear.

In Washington, freshman Rep. Liz Pike (R- Camas) has said she'll file a bill allow teachers carry concealed weapons in the classroom, which would change state law.

If Pike's efforts go through, every school district would get to choose if teachers can carry weapons. Pike said it would be confidential and only law enforcement and the superintendent would know which teachers are armed.

"They're designed to be concealed, and in a perfect situation a student will never see that gun," she told KATU-TV.

Camas' proposal has drawn disagreement from others in Washington, including Rep.-elect Monica Stonier (D-Vancouver) who said lawmakers need to address mental health issues.

"People who are looking for ways to hurt other people will do that whether there is a gun around or not," she told KATU-TV. "So we need to be approaching that from a mental health perspective."

The debates continued as gun buyback programs collected hundreds of guns across the country. In Bridgeport, Conn. – a city roughly 20 miles from Sandy Hook Elementary – police exchanged $22,775 for 112 guns, including about 10 assault weapons.

In Los Angeles, officers said they bought 2,037 guns, including 75 assault weapons and two anti-tank rocket launchers, the LA Times reported.

Forty members of Congress, led by Democrats Gerry Connolly, of Virginia, and Ted Deutch, of Florida, have sent a letter to Senate and House leaders seeking $200 million for a gun buyback effort as part of any fiscal cliff deal. They estimated the money would get as many as a million guns off the streets.

Gun buyback programs have been politically popular in urban areas, but a 2004 study by the National Academies' National Research Council found that the programs aren't effective in reducing gun violence.

The efforts come as the NRA and President Obama battle over how to prevent shootings like the one in Newtown.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre asked Congress for money to put a police officer in every school and said at a press conference, "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." He said the problem is the criminal, not the guns.

Obama has called on Congress to take up and pass "common sense legislation that has the support of a majority of the American people."

He also tasked Vice President Joe Biden with leading the effort to come up with a comprehensive set of proposals to keep children safe. That would include addressing school safety, mental illness, and "a culture that too often glorifies guns and violence."

Biden helped draft the 1994 crime bill that led to the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that year, which expired a decade later. Previous efforts to renew the bill have failed. Obama said he wants the proposals by January and that he'll do "everything in my power as president to advance these efforts."

Information from Hearst reporters Ericka Mellon, Dug Begley and Michael P. Mayko is included in this report. Casey McNerthney can be reached at 206-448-8220 or at caseymcnerthney@seattlepi.com. Follow Casey on Twitter at twitter.com/mcnerthney.

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