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Legislature approves controversial firearms bill

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The Legislature approved on April 14 a controversial bill to allow firearms on public property or require the area to be secured with metal detectors and armed guards.

The Senate passed the bill on a party line vote, 21-8. The House gave the measure the green light on April 13, where the vote also hewed closely along partisan lines, 38-20.

SB 1201, the firearms omnibus sponsored by Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, had sparked debate among several different groups. Gun control advocates have blanched at the idea of allowing guns in public areas such as libraries or government buildings.

Private property rights advocates have argued that provisions to consider sports stadiums, which are publicly owned but leased to private teams, would put an undue burden on property owners. And others have argued that the security precautions that governments must take to keep facilities gun-free will mean another financial burden in times of budget crises.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, was among the property rights advocates and amended the bill to clarify that property that is being privately used would be exempt, meaning that sports stadiums would be exempted. Similarly, if private events were be held on publicly-owned property, the bill would not apply.

In the case of buildings with some units leased to government agencies and others leased to private agencies, the government agency would be responsible for securing its leased space if it did not want firearms there.

However, Farnsworth stood firm in his argument that all publicly owned buildings and property must abide by the provisions of the bill, which require that the property either allows firearms to everyone or allows them to no one. If the property owner chooses not to allow firearms, the site must provide storage lockers, a metal detector or wand at the door and armed guards in addition to a specifically worded prohibition sign.

“The Second Amendment applies, as do the other amendments, to government, not the private sector,” he said.

This bill is a compromise, he argued: we’re going to allow the government to restrict the Second Amendment right, but then put the responsibility back on the government to protect citizens that can no longer protect themselves.

But not everyone was convinced.

Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, argued that the bill would keep people from feeling safe when they go down to City Hall or to the library.

“What is our obsession with guns?” he said. “Simply because our Constitution outlines our right to possess a weapon doesn’t mean we can take any weapon that can terrorize any group anywhere we want without consequences.”

But Second Amendment advocates weren’t buying that argument.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, asked Chabin if he feels similarly unsafe walking down the street or in private establishments that allow guns.

Advocates similarly shot down arguments by Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, that the bill was an “unfunded mandate” on cities and towns.

Gallego tried to run floor amendments to exempt community centers, public pools and libraries, arguing that city and town residents will put pressure on the government to keep guns out since those are places typically have a high concentration of children.

“The cities are basically going to get pummeled from the friends of the public library, and the cities are going to have to comply,” he said.

But Rep. Ted Vogt, R-Tucson, quizzed Gallego as to whether he thought the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, like the Sixth Amendment requiring that all accused criminals be given a trial, are similarly unfunded mandates.

The bill passed 38-20, mostly along party lines. All Democrats voted against the measure except Daniel Patterson, from Tucson, who voted for it. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, Russ Jones, R-Yuma and Amanda Reeve, R-Phoenix, were the only Republicans present who voted against it. The bill now heads back to the Senate for approval of the House amendments.

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