No stranger to controversy, freshman Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, might have waded into another one after she pointed a loaded gun at the chest of a reporter who was profiling her as a part of a series on gun culture in Arizona.
Klein was showing her Ruger to an Arizona Republic reporter in the Senate lounge.
This was how reporter Richard Ruelas described what happened in yesterday’s Republic: “She showed off the laser sighting by pointing the red beam at the reporter’s chest. The gun has no safety, she said, but there was no need to worry. ‘I just didn’t have my hand on the trigger,’ she said.”
Gun critics immediately seized on the occasion to highlight the laxity of gun laws in the Senate and in the state.
Hammering away at Klein, some also called for Senate President Russell Pearce to ban altogether firearms in the Senate.
“The number one responsibility of a gun owner is gun safety,” said Sen. Steve Gallardo, a Democrat from Phoenix.
“It is unconscionable that a state senator would knowingly aim a loaded gun at another human being. This exhibit of irresponsible gun ownership is how gun deaths and accidents happen,” he said.
Gallardo also suggested that the Senate ethics committee “seriously look at this situation before someone gets killed.”
Klein refused a phone interview, saying she won’t contribute to the “media frenzy” driven by folks with an anti-Second Amendment rights agenda.
But explaining her side via email, Klein said it was the reporter who put himself in her gun’s line of sight.
After she was asked to show her weapon so photos could be taken of it, Klein said she made sure the chamber was clear.
“The photographer, who was behind me at the time, asked me to show him the laser sight and I did so, turning it on and shining it on the wall in front of me (away from the photographer). During this demonstration, the reporter came and sat down in the sofa in front of me, placing himself in the line of the laser sight,” Klein said.
“He noticed the light, then I noticed the light, then I turned it off. I apologized and let him know that he was safe because I keep my finger out of the trigger guard. Again, that is basic gun safety,” she added.
Klein said the reporter didn’t show any sign of discomfort at what happened.
But Klein said she learned several lessons, chiefly, that no matter who asks, she won’t be showing her gun to anyone.
“It may help them take a better picture but my gun isn’t a fashion statement or accessory, it is a life-saving tool to keep me and my family safe,” she said.
Klein also said any future demonstrations of her gun’s features would have to take place at a gun range.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, chairman of the Senate Ethics Rules Committee, said he doesn’t think what happened warrants an ethics investigation.
But Gould said what Klein did was a breach of gun safety rules.
The first rule of gun safety, he said, is to never point your gun at anything you’re not willing to shoot.
That holds true even if the gun holder thinks the weapon isn’t loaded, the Lake Havasu Republican said, adding that’s how accidents happen.
“I kind of cringed when I read that she had done that,” Gould said. “She wasn’t brandishing the weapon. I think she just thought it would be cute to shine the laser sight on the reporter. I personally don’t like seeing that kind of thing — because that’s how people get killed.”
Gould said even if it was meant as a joke, nobody should be joking around like that.
He added: “When I see Senator Klein next time I will remind her of the first rule of gun safety.”
Klein’s action will likely bring to the fore the divergent and varied views among policymakers and the public on guns.
But others rejected the notion that Klein’s action was a reflection of gun culture in the Legislature.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, said it was simply inappropriate behavior.
“The issue of guns, gun safety, and the debate around gun regulations is an important and serious issue for us to consider,” Sinema said. “These types of stunts only make it harder for us to have a reasonable, rational conversation about how and when to regulate guns while protecting the Second Amendment rights of Arizonans.”
Klein courted controversy earlier this year when she read a racially-charged letter on the Senate floor without first verifying its contents. There was initial skepticism about letter and its sender, who claimed to have taught in Glendale. But further inquiry confirmed that the sender was indeed a substitute teacher.
She was being profiled in the Republic series because she carries a gun in her purse, even when she is on the Senate floor. When she brought the gun into the Arizona House of Representatives on opening day in January, just two days after the tragic Jan. 8 shooting in Tucson, gun-control critics attacked her and Senate President Russell Pearce, who said he would allow legislators to carry guns in the chamber, despite a state law prohibiting firearms in state buildings.