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Gun lobby takes on property rights

Traditionally, gun-rights advocates have extolled liberty. But lately in Arizona, the gun lobby has taken a strange and puzzling U-turn.

Two bills in the Legislature would compel owners of commercial establishments to allow people to bring firearms onto their property. H2474 would force businesses to allow employees and others to bring firearms into their parking lots and garages as long as the cars and guns remain locked.

The bill would allow lawsuits against any business that prohibited such firearms, and even would make them civilly liable to anyone injured or killed because the gun owner could not access the weapon. If the bill involved something other than guns, one would suspect it was written by the trial lawyers’ association to create yet another source of liability and attorney fees.

Even worse is H2171, which would require restaurants that derive at least 50 percent of their gross receipts from food sales to allow individuals who are not consuming alcohol to carry lawful weapons.

Rep. Chad Campbell, a Democrat, declared the “fundamental problem I have with both these bills is you’re infringing on private property owners.”

That perspective ordinarily would be shared by most Republicans — except they’re the ones sponsoring what amounts to not only a deprivation of property rights, but onerous new regulation on businesses.

The gun-rights advocates argue that the issue presents a clash between private property rights and the rights of gun ownership.

But that’s not true; the constitutional right to keep and bear arms is solely a limitation on government power. Property rights are not. And individuals in the exercise of their property rights should be free to determine the conditions by which people enter their property.

Owners of bars or sports arenas certainly would be justified in fearing that irate patrons may retrieve weapons from their cars and harm people. Restaurants that serve alcohol may want to avoid gunfights, even if those packing weapons aren’t the ones drinking.

Regardless, it should be the property owners’ decision, not the government’s. Gun owners who don’t like the rules can work elsewhere or patronize a different commercial establishment, just as any of us can do when we encounter rules we don’t like.

Property owners already encounter myriad restrictions. There are restrictions on the signs businesses are allowed to post on their property. Restaurants and bars no longer can allow their patrons to smoke. But since when do conservatives want to expand those restrictions?

Some time ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that people have free-speech rights not only on public property but on certain private property. As a result, a shopping mall owner was forced to allow people to petition inside the mall even if the owner disagreed with their beliefs. Every conservative and libertarian I know thinks that decision is an outrageous violation of property rights. If the right to freedom of speech shouldn’t trump private property rights, why should the right to keep and bear arms?

I am a passionate Second Amendment supporter, proud to have signed a brief in support of the right to keep and bear arms that recently was recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court in Heller v. District of Columbia. If the federal or state government acts to violate that right, gun-rights advocates may count on me as a champion of their cause.

But the paramount purpose of the right to keep and bear arms is to protect liberty — including, perhaps foremost, the sanctity of one’s property. It is a shame to see some among those who have fought for that liberty now wielding political power to diminish the property rights of others.

— Clint Bolick is litigation director at the Goldwater Institute.

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