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Reinstating the assault weapons ban, prohibiting domestic abusers from having guns, buying back guns and instituting universal background checks were just some of the suggestions made by a panel of Flagstaff leaders and Democratic candidates for the Arizona Legislature at a  forum Wednesday night at Northern Arizona University.

But the most frequently cited approach to the gun violence in schools issue was more funding for public education and voting.

The standing-room-only forum was sponsored by the NAU Young Democrats and the Coconino County Democrats. More than 100 people crammed into a small lecture hall at NAU’s College of Education. The forum was also added to a list of Honors Exploration Events for NAU students.

Democrat Wade Carlisle, former vice mayor of Holbrook, is running for state Senate in Legislative District 6.

The panel consisted of Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans, Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan, Coconino County Attorney Bill Ring, NAU education professor Whitney Tapia, Moms Demand Action representative Mary Grove, Arizona Senate candidate Wade Carlisle and Arizona House candidates Felicia French and Bobby Tyler. Nearly all of the panelists said they owned a gun.

When the panel was asked what kind of legislation they would pass to improve gun safety and prevent gun violence, Evans called for regulations that would promote more responsible gun ownership.

She said she and her twin brother were taught how to care for, shoot and properly store a gun and she owns a gun. But if guns were regulated like most states regulate cars with licensing, safety equipment, registration and insurance it would go a long way to preventing gun violence.

A person who is responsible for a gun that is registered to them is going to be more careful about how and where that weapon is stored, Evans said.

“I’ve looked at this from a multiple different angles,” said Tapia, a veteran Flagstaff teacher and professor of education at NAU. “We need to train teachers on how to handle at-risk students. We need to reform our disciplinary procedures in schools. We need to remove the barriers to research on guns and gun violence.”

She also called for smaller class sizes so teachers could get to know their students and react before something happened. Paying teachers a reasonable salary would also go a long way to recruiting people to the career who really care for these students.

Tyler agreed with Tapia and also pushed for more funding for more resource officers and counselors for schools. Each school district should be able to afford to put one resource officer and one counselor for each of its schools. Then these personnel would be able to get to know the students at their schools and possibly spot the warning signs of a student at risk.

Whelan said she would ask local stores to voluntarily stop selling AR-15 and other assault-style weapons.

“If we can’t change things at the national level what about at the local level?” she asked.

French called for education funding and more regulations on lobbyists to prevent legislators and congressmen from being “legally bribed” by big corporate campaign donations.

Grove called for universal background checks and universal healthcare. Maybe if people had access to affordable healthcare they could get the mental help and the medications they needed.

She also said more needs to be done to educate people and children on guns. More needs to be done to prevent students from bringing guns from the home into the classroom.

Moms Demand Action has the “Be SMART” program for adults. It starts the conversation on how to secure guns in the home, model responsible behavior around guns, ask about guns in friends’ homes, identify the risks of teen suicide and talk to others about gun safety.

Democrat Bobby Tyler is the mayor of Holbrook and is running for state House in Legislative District 6. 

Tyler agreed on the universal background checks for every gun purchase, including purchases made at gun shows.

The panel also agreed on reinstating the federal assault weapons ban, which lapsed in 1996.

“Of course it would make a difference to public safety and public health,” Ring said.

He also suggested repealing the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits federal money given to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control from being used to advocate or promote gun control.

In order to hold a civil, reasonable discussion about regulation the use of guns in the U.S. both sides need to have non-biased data, Ring said. Repealing the Dickey Amendment would allow the CDC to study the effect guns have on public health and safety and give us the data needed to combat the myths that are perpetuated by both sides.

Tyler called reinstating the assault weapons ban “a start.”

Allowing gun buyback programs in Arizona to destroy the weapons collected was also a favorite. In 2013, Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law that prohibited police departments and other organizations that operate gun buyback programs from destroying the weapons.

A panel of eight Democratic local government officials and candidates for state office took on questions about the gun policy debate at a foru…

Evans said Flagstaff had a buyback program about 15 years ago that was an integral part of the effort to clean up crime in the Sunnyside neighborhood.

The panel didn’t think that arming teachers in the classroom was an effective deterrent.

French, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, said that about 40 percent of soldiers freeze when they come under fire for the first time. These are professionals who have to go through training and qualify on a regular basis. What do you think a teacher who has gone through one three-week course is going to do when they come under fire, she asked.

“I think it’s a dangerous toe to dip into the water,” Tapia said. “I’m not comfortable with completely militarized schools.”

“How are we going to find the money to arm teachers when we don’t have the money for classrooms,” Evans asked.

The No. 1 solution that all of the panelists agreed on was educating people on their right to vote and getting people out to vote.

Nothing is going to change until you change the people in the Arizona Legislature or Congress, Ring said.

The reporter can be reached at sadams@azdailysun.com or (928)556-2253.

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Education/Business Reporter

Suzanne writes about education and business. She covers the local school district, charter schools and Northern Arizona University. She also writes the Sunday business features.

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