Saying Arizonans have “God-given rights to defend themselves,” the state House voted Wednesday to let anyone with a permit to carry a concealed weapon bring it into many public buildings.
Existing laws say that states, cities, counties and other levels of government can declare their buildings to be off-limits to weapons. The only existing requirement is that they provide lockers for people to store their guns.
HB 2339, approved on a 34-22 vote and sent to the Senate, says anyone who has gone through the state-required training and background check to have what's called a CCW permit can ignore the “no guns” signs, whether or not there are lockers available.
The measure does allow governments to maintain their weapons-free zones, but they would have to put metal detectors and armed guards at each public entrance in addition to the lockers.
In separate action, however, the Senate killed a similar measure which would have allowed anyone at all – CCW permit or not – to ignore a public building's “no guns” sign if lockers are not immediately available at each entrance. SB 1083 died on a 14-14 tie vote.
The House did agree to a third measure to impose a $5,000 civil penalty for any community – or even government official – who knowingly or willfully enacts or enforces any gun regulation which goes beyond what the Legislature has decided is permissible. It says that those accused of these knowing or willful violations cannot use public money to defend themselves.
HB 2517, which now goes to the Senate, goes beyond that, allowing any individual or organization whose membership might be affected by a local gun rule to go to court, seek to have the regulation voided and be awarded up to $100,000 in legal fees.
Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, said she believes the legislation is aimed at her home town. Tucson has enacted requirements for gun owners to report lost weapons and allows police to request a breath sample from someone who has negligently discharged a firearm and appears intoxicated.
Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, said state preemption of local gun regulations is necessary for uniformity. Otherwise, he said, gun owners who live in Marana could inadvertently find themselves in legal trouble while carrying their weapons into Tucson.
“That kind of chaos is unacceptable,” Orr said.
The more sweeping measure, however, deals with weapons in public buildings. Now, just the sign, plus available storage lockers, is enough to force anyone with a weapon to park it at the door.
Steele said if HB 2339 becomes law, there would be a big cost to taxpayers to keep their public buildings free of weapons. She pegged the price tag of the metal detectors and armed guards at $136,000 for each entrance.
Kavanagh said that's not true. He said there is no need for government agencies to spend any money at all. Kavanagh said all that's needed is trust that CCW holders do not pose a risk because they have been through a background check and gone through state-mandated training.
“These very same people that some think will become dangerous with a weapon in a public building are the very same people who they walk past on the sidewalk in front of the public building carrying a weapon, who they bump into in the supermarket carrying a weapon,” Kavanagh said. “These people, if they're dangerous, would have exploded a long time ago.”
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said it's even simpler than that. He said criminals ignore the “no guns” signs now and take their hidden weapons into buildings where there are no metal detectors and armed guards to stop them.
“So this is a leveling measure that once again recognizes our God-given rights to protect ourselves,” he said. Anyway, Farnsworth argued there is also a constitutional ban on government limiting the right to bear arms unless there is some “compelling government interest” like not allowing them into prisons.
To get the measure approved, Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, had to include some specific exemptions. For example, CCW permit holders could not bring their weapons into public schools, community colleges or universities.
Also off limits would be any public event with a liquor license, a provision designed to keep them out of large sports arenas; existing law already allows permit holders to bring their guns into bars.