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A Closer Look At Governor Ducey's School Safety Plans

LAUREN GILGER: In the wake of the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Arizona’s governor has rolled out a plan meant to prevent similar incidents here.

On Monday, Governor Doug Ducey’s office revealed the details of the proposal, which includes new measures to keep guns from dangerous people and more money for mental health and public safety in schools. KJZZ’s Will Stone was at the governor’s office covering the release and he joins us now… good morning, Will.

WILL STONE: Good morning, Lauren.

GILGER: So tell us first, how did this plan come together?  

STONE: It’s the result of extensive meetings with school administrators and teachers, police officers and mental health professionals, among others. The Governor’s staff also reviewed some of the deadliest schools shootings in recent years to see what lesson could be learned, what could have been done that wasn’t. And out of those talks came this proposal that touches on public safety and mental health in schools - for example, funding for more police officers and school counselors, creating an optional program to train retired law enforcement who want to volunteer as backup officers on campus. The plan also seeks to improve our background check system and how we keep track of people who shouldn’t have access to firearms.

GILGER: I imagine most people — Democrats and Republicans — can generally support more money for mental health resources - but what about regulating who can have a weapon… how does this plan actually change that?  

STONE: The centerpiece of Ducey’s plan is the creation of a new legal avenue for intervening when someone is suspected of being dangerous. It’s called a Severe Threat Order of Protection, or a STOP order, which allows law enforcement, teachers, family member or others to petition a court to temporarily prevent someone from accessing a gun. Under current law, there’s no real mechanism for someone who suspects a person might be dangerous to intervene - short of trying to get that suspect involuntarily committed. This would change that and still preserve due process, a judge has to review the order and determine the extent of the evidence. If granted, the order would then be valid for 2 to 3 weeks depending on the situation and could be extended if necessary.  

The Governor’s spokesperson Daniel Scarpinato told reporters that when they reviewed some of the deadliest school shootings, including in Parkland, Florida, it was clear there had been warning signs. This STOP order would let people act on those.

SCARPINATO: “If someone is a threat, but maybe not clinically mentally ill, there would still be a tool in the toolbox here. In terms of surrendering the weapons not only are they required to do it, law enforcement can seize the weapons and if you violate it, you will go to prison.”

GILGER: We have this proposal for a STOP order for people who are suspected of possibly carrying out a mass shooting. Is there anything else that addresses background checks? Who shouldn’t have a gun?

STONE: The plan has money set aside for technical updates to Arizona’s background check system and online portals for law enforcement to report criminal histories. It also establishes a Center for School Safety that would basically serve as a centralized tip line for reporting suspicious people or behavior. But one thing it does not address is the so-called gun show loophole that allows people in private sales to buy a firearm without a background check. And that appears to be a major sticking point for Democrats.

GILGER: What are they saying?

STONE: The Democratic leadership came out the very quickly and strongly against the plan, saying while they support some of the ideas, it does not go far enough. In their meetings with the Governor’s office they said they had made it clear their support was contingent on a few specific provisions. Namely — something to ensure anyone who buys a gun undergoes a background check and a ban on bump stocks — that was the device used by the Las Vegas shooter that allows semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly. Neither of those appeared in the Governor’s plan.

Here’s what House Minority Leader Rebecca Rios had to say right after it was released .

RIOS: “Over 90 percent of Arizonans support background checks, both republicans and democrats, we frankly do not understand what the governor is afraid of.”

STONE: The legislation hasn’t been fully drafted yet and Democrats said they are hopeful Republicans are open to negotiation. But until they see the bills, they would hold off on saying how they’ll vote.

Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.