The next time you’re chatting with lawmakers at the Capitol, don’t be surprised if you notice they’re armed.
House Speaker David Gowan has decided that he is applying the law that allows him to keep weapons out of his building only to staff, lobbyists, media and other visitors. But press aide Stephanie Grisham said that does not mean legislators who have their guns are breaking the law.
Grisham said the law makes it a crime to bring a deadly weapon into a public building “after a reasonable request by the operator of the establishment.’’ She said that means a crime occurs only after someone ignores a request.
That “request’’ usually is made in the form of a sign that the law requires be posted at any entrance to a public building. Grisham said what Gowan did was simply remove the “no weapons’’ sign that had been in place at the back door of the building, the one that lawmakers use.
“The speaker did not request members to remove their guns,’’ Grisham said. And what that means, she said, is any legislator who keeps a sidearm is not violating the law.
Anyway, she said, there’s a reason for distinguishing between legislators and everyone else who enters the building.
“Speaker Gowan strongly believes in the Second Amendment and is not going to impede on the rights of lawmakers who have been vetted by the people of Arizona,’’ Grisham said.
She also said Gowan’s policy is not new: He removed the sign at the back door after he was elected speaker last year.
But it did not become public until Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, raised the issue in an open letter to Gowan after noticing another lawmaker — he would not name names — was armed.
Friese said he believes that Gowan can set policy for guns in the House. But Friese said he’s not buying the explanation that Gowan can let legislators ignore the law simply by taking down the sign.
“In the absence of a clear directive from the speaker, we default to the statute,’’ he said. “And the statute says in a public building if there’s a sign on the door weapons should be secured.’’
That means either not bringing them in the building or storing them in lockers that operators of public buildings are required to provide.
Nor does he believe that removing the sign from just the rear door changes anything, what with signs still in place at the front doors.
“What if a member enters the front door?’’ he asked. And Friese said staffers use the back door.
“All I’m asking the speaker is, if you intend to allow members to carry weapons onto the floor to please make a clear directive so that the public is aware … and so that other members are aware,’’ Friese said.
Across the courtyard, senators also can carry guns. But Senate President Andy Biggs said that, unlike Gowan, he has taken no specific action to allow that.
“The policy that’s been in place for six years now is kind of a ‘We’re not going to ask, we don’t expect you to tell us,’ ‘‘ he said. And Biggs said that, true to that, he hasn’t asked.
“There are members on this floor that I suspect carry,’’ he said.
The issue actually goes back longer than that.
In 2007, Tim Bee, then the Senate president, said that there was a “don’t ask/don’t tell’’ policy about lawmakers with guns. But he said it was not until Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, acknowledged carrying her .22-caliber revolver into the building each day that anyone actually asked him about the practice.
Four years later, first-year Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, conceded she was bringing her concealed weapon into the Senate despite the signs on the doors making the building a weapons-free zone.
That generated a controversy of its own after Klein reportedly pointed a gun at an Arizona Republic reporter while demonstrating its laser sight.