PHOENIX -- The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to allow guns onto college campuses.
That 5-3 vote came after Sen. Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, sided with Democrats in opposition. Yarbrough said he was not convinced that limiting the right to those with a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon provides sufficient safeguards.
But the other Republicans on the GOP-dominated panel said all they were doing is affirming the constitutional right of individuals to protect themselves.
SB 1474 would still allow colleges and universities to keep buildings as gun-free zones. But that would require that they post signs banning weapons at each door.
More significant, it would mandate that schools purchase and install secure lockers for each building. Foes said, though, that lockers would cost more than $400 apiece. And the legislation contains no new funding for the schools to obtain them.
Brent Gardner, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said concerns of armed individuals on campuses are overblown.
Since 2010, Arizona law allows any adult to carry a concealed weapon. But this special permission for campuses would be limited solely to the nearly 163,000 individuals who have obtained a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon.
Gardner said there is no evidence that these people, who already have their guns with them at most times, are causing problems.
"The notions that we heard today (is) the idea that ... suddenly when they step foot across an imaginary boundary onto a college campus become homicidal maniacs,' he told lawmakers.
But said he .Yarbrough was not convinced.
"I have some grave concerns about the CCW training requirement which has been gravely diminished' since lawmakers first authorized concealed-carry permits in 1994. Yarbrough said while he has supported those efforts, he cannot now say there is enough oversight to make him comfortable about letting these people bring their guns into classrooms.
Other Republicans had their own concerns based on conflicting testimony.
Sen. Adam Driggs, R-Phoenix, cited the comments of John Pickens, the police chief at Arizona State University who feared "unintended consequences.' That includes the fact that armed students have nowhere near the training of a certified peace officer in being able to identify who is the target and the skills to hit only that person.
On the other side of the issue, Gardner said statistics show that campuses can be dangerous places, even with trained police. He said in 2010 there were 12 aggravated assaults, six rapes and three robberies on the main ASU campus.
"The simple fact is these folks are not able to be everywhere at all times,' Gardner said.
"Our personal safety and responsibility is something that is incumbent upon each of us,' he continued. "It's a right guaranteed by our constitution.'
Driggs agreed that no law can control deranged individuals.
"Those people are still going to come onto campus with a firearm,' he said, with or without laws that now allow universities and colleges to keep guns off campuses.
"I'm being asked which is more likely: That a CCW permit holder will able to be a hero against a deranged individual who means harm on a campus, or whether that same hero is more likely to miss his target and injure someone,' Driggs said. "And I don't think I'm in a position where I could make that determination.'
Still, Driggs agreed to support the measure for now.
Others, however, had no such concerns.
Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, pointed out that the Arizona Constitution spells out that "the right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired.' He argued that existing restrictions -- including those this legislation seeks to lift -- violate that restriction.
Among those testifying against the bill was James Allen, the student body president at the University of Arizona.
He said faculty and students are opposed to the change. And Allen said lawmakers should defer to the opposition of the campus police chiefs who say more guns on campus will make the schools more dangerous.
But Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, questioned the basis of the fears. He said that police chiefs from around the state opposed the 1994 legislation that first allowed people to have concealed weapons, saying it would lead to less public safety.
"The evidence of history doesn't, in my opinion doesn't lend credence to those dire concerns,' Murphy said.
Biggs brushed aside that opposition, saying student body leaders at the three universities were elected based on low voter turnout and may not represent the views of the majority of those taking classes.
There also was conflicting testimony about what laws about guns on campuses already exist in other states. But Gerri Hills, vice president of Arizonans for Gun Safety, said even if there are states that permit students and faculty to be armed, that does not mean lawmakers here should conclude that they pose no problems.
"(I) haven't heard them saving anybody, either,' she said.
"We're making these type of policies based on assumptions, myths and hypotheticals,' Hills said. "This is not the way public policy should be created.'
Lawmakers approved a similar measure last year, only to have it vetoed by Gov. Jan Brewer who expressed concern over the wording. Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said he recrafted the measure to address the governor's comments; she has not said whether she will sign the new version.
The same committee also approved another measure to make it more difficult for other government agencies to keep weapons out of their buildings.
Under existing law, a simple "no guns' sign suffices. SB 1448 would let owners of weapons, concealed or open, ignore those signs unless the agency also had an armed guard at any door where the public can enter.
Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said his legislation is designed to ensure that those who enter public buildings can remain armed to protect themselves if others with malicious intent ignore those signs.
Both bills still need full Senate approval.