New Arizona legislation aims to loosen gun laws
Sweeping legislation would make Ariz. most gun-liberal state
41 comments by Alia Beard Rau - Jan. 31, 2011 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Arizona solidified its reputation last year as one of the most liberal gun states in the nation after the Legislature passed a law allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
This year, gun-rights advocates hope to push Arizona to the top of the list by passing a "Firearms Omnibus" bill that would make Arizona the second state in the nation to require universities and communities to allow guns on campus and one of 10 that permit guns inside public government buildings such as the state Capitol.
The bill to permit guns in public buildings is one of the most comprehensive gun bills proposed so far this session. It also addresses several other issues, including concealed weapons and allowing residents to seize government property if their gun rights aren't observed.
Opponents say the all-encompassing gun bill would endanger the public and make it more difficult to prosecute people who shoot guns into the air or lie to police officers about whether they are carrying a concealed weapon.
Supporters of the bill say it is needed to ensure safety in public facilities.
The legislation is one of more than a dozen firearms-related bills proposed in Arizona this year.
Arizona isn't alone in the effort to loosen gun restrictions. Lawmakers from many other states are pushing weapons laws - some in reaction to acts of violence like the shooting near Tucson, and some because of the more-conservative makeup of their legislatures following the November election.
What it does
Senate Bill 1201, sponsored by Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, would do a number of things, including:
- Allow people to carry firearms into all government-run facilities and many public events. The only places or events that could ban firearms would be those that post the correct sign, provide firearm lockers and have armed security and a metal detector. The law would apply to university classrooms, city buses and community festivals that get government permits. It would not apply to K-12 schools.
- Change the wording of last year's concealed-weapons law to require an individual to answer "truthfully" when a law-enforcement officer asks whether the person is carrying a concealed weapon. The current wording requires the person to answer "accurately." Law-enforcement officials say the change could give leeway to a person who, for example, forgets a gun in a bag and inaccurately tells an officer he or she isn't carrying one.
- Change the wording of Shannon's Law to make it a crime to "knowingly" discharge a firearm within city limits. It's currently a crime for someone to discharge a firearm with "criminal negligence." Bill opponents said the change would mean people could be convicted of violating this law only if the prosecution could prove they knew that shooting the gun could result in someone's death or injury.
- Allow people to sue if they feel they were illegally stopped from carrying a firearm into a government facility or event. If a person wins the lawsuit and the government agency doesn't pay within 72 hours, the person has the right to seize as payment "any municipal vehicles used or operated for the benefit of any elected office holder" in the relevant government agency.
Gun-rights advocates found enormous success in Arizona last year in passing legislation, thanks primarily to a supportive Legislature and a conservative governor.
Gov. Jan Brewer has consistently supported Second Amendment issues.
During her first year in office, she signed a bill allowing loaded guns in bars and restaurants, as well as another that prohibits property owners from banning guns from parking areas, so long as the weapons are kept locked in vehicles. Last year, she signed the concealed-carry bill into law, along with another bill that exempts guns made and kept in the state from federal regulation.
Only Utah has fewer gun restrictions than Arizona, according to a scorecard released last year by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that advocates gun restrictions. Utah is the only state that allows concealed weapons on college campuses.
Even with the gun-friendly environment, bills to allow guns on college campuses in Arizona failed to get through the Legislature last year.
But in November, voters elected more Republicans to the state Legislature, giving the party a supermajority in both chambers. Gun bills are expected to have even more success this year.
Fourteen lawmakers have signed on as co-sponsors of SB 1201, including Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa. There are also two other bills that propose to allow guns on university and community-college campuses.
A spokesman for Brewer said her office would not comment on the legislation "unless and until it reached the governor's desk."
The Arizona Citizens Defense League, a grassroots gun-rights group, brought SB 1201 to Gould.
Group spokesman Charles Heller calls it the "secure-buildings bill."
"We've been working on doing this for a long, long time," he said. "I don't think anybody at the Citizens Defense League has any objection to disarming in a secure place. None of us has desire to carry in a place that's prohibited. But if you're going to prohibit it, make it secure."
And if a government agency isn't willing to secure the establishment, he said, "don't disarm the victims."
"You set up a slaughter," he said.
Gould did not return a call seeking comment.
Lobbyists on both sides of the issue said the details of SB 1201 are still being negotiated and amendments that change or eliminate some pieces of the legislation may be proposed.
The bill has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Gould chairs. No hearing has been scheduled.
"We want to really work with the sponsor of the bill to get some changes," said Sahuarita Police Chief Jack Harris, who is president of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police. "There are some things we think are really problematic, but I think we can get these things fixed."
Harris said he was concerned that the changes in the wording of Shannon's Law and the concealed-carry law would hinder prosecution.
He also said penalties for officials and law-enforcement personnel who may violate the rules are too tough. In addition to allowing an official's vehicle to be confiscated, the bill makes it a Class 5 felony for any officer or official who violates the law and forbids any public money from being used in their legal defense.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, called the bill "crazy."
"This is absurd," Sinema said. "Arizona already has the second-most-liberal gun laws in the country."
She said it was disconcerting that lawmakers would consider allowing people to bring weapons into public buildings.
"Weapons in courtrooms in which defendants are being tried? In probation hearings? In the state Capitol?" she said. "This is problematic.
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