In a highly emotional vote, the Senate on Thursday approved a bill that loosens restrictions carrying firearms to most public places.
SB1201 contains several other components that gun rights activists have been pushing, such as prohibiting government agencies from adopting rules that are more restrictive than what’s expressed in state law, and allowing a person to sue for damages if a local ordinance, for example, violated this bill’s provisions.
But the bill’s main provision would abolish existing statutes that prohibit people from bringing firearms into a public building or event after being requested to surrender them for storage.
Instead, the bill would allow a government agency or municipality to ban firearms on its premise only if it could provide for a security officer, install a metal-detection device or other machine that screens for weapons and post a readily seen sign that prohibits firearms.
In addition, the establishment must also have a secure firearms locker near an entrance.
The proposal, however, still exempts school districts and community colleges from areas where firearms are allowed. Another bill working its way through the Senate specifically prohibits educational institutions from preventing people with carry permits from having weapons on campus.
SB1201, which the Senate passed by a party-line 21-8 vote, is but the latest of several proposals that seek to further ease gun restrictions in the state. Many of those measures have been successful in the past.
The measure now goes to the House, where it must also pass before the governor can sign or reject it.
Gun advocates have long argued that people are left defenseless by laws banning firearms in public places that do not thoroughly screen for weapons. Under such circumstances, the requirement to surrender weapons becomes an honor system: Some gun owners will, but others will not.
But critics said further loosening gun restrictions isn’t a sound public policy, especially in a state in which gun laws are lax to begin with.
Not that they would support the bill at another time, but critics also argued that the push to pass the bill now showed insensitivity to victims of the Tucson mass-shooting in January, when six people were killed and 13 others wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat.
Giffords, who survived a shot to the head, is undergoing therapy in Texas.
Some Democrats became emotional in explaining their opposition to SB1201.
“Has this body no shame? No compassion? No respect?” Sen. Linda Lopez, a Democrat from Tucson and a close friend of Giffords’, said as she fought back tears.
“Couldn’t this body have had the decency to wait until next year to introduce this legislation, when emotions are less raw?” she said.
Sen. Paula Aboud, also a Tucson Democrat, said the measure “defies the sensibility of people in Arizona who are still hurting, still devastated, still shocked, still frightened” by the Tucson shootings.
“It is insulting,” she added.
After the vote, a few Democrats left the floor and missed voting on other non-gun related bills.
SB1201’s primary sponsor, Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said after the vote that emotions shouldn’t get in the way of legislating. He said those who complained about the timing of the bill’s passage “operate on emotion instead of logic.”
“You saw it. You know, they want to get emotional, rather than logical,” he said.
Gould said if the Senate voted on a bill that outlawed guns, for example, Democrats would be happy to hold the vote “without an emotional response.”
“Since they seem to have an irrational fear of guns, they think that anything gun related should be on hold,” he said.
The bill’s backers, like Gould, have also argued that the legislation wouldn’t have had any impact on a Tucson-style shooting, since that was allegedly committed by a mentally unstable person.
A fiscal note attached to the bill says it would initially cost about $5,000 to secure one building entrance, and between $45,000 and $90,000 per year in ongoing expenses.