Saying they’re exempt, state representatives voted Tuesday to allow themselves to carry their guns onto the House floor.
On a party-line vote, the Republican majority beat back a proposal by Democrats to enact a new rule to forbid any person from entering the House building while armed. The only exception would be for peace officers “acting in their official capacities.”
Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, pointed out that Arizona law makes it a crime to bring a weapon into a public building if there is a “no guns” sign at the door. And he pointed out there are such signs at the public entrances.
“Your constituents do not have the right to bring a deadly weapon into this building,” Friese told his colleagues. “What we’re asking ourselves today is should we move ourselves above the law.”
But Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, said this isn’t about legislators saying they can ignore the law.
“We have a special exemption,” he said, with the Legislature as a separate branch of government entitled to write its own rules.
And Campbell said he’s quite comfortable with the fact that some legislators may be armed.
“We’re a safer building with people not knowing if we’re armed or not armed,” he said.
The debate arose after Democrats discovered that House Speaker David Gowan had quietly decided to allow legislators to have their guns.
House GOP spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham insisted that did not make lawmakers into law breakers.
She pointed out that Gowan had removed the “no guns” sign at the back door of the building, the one not available to the public. Therefore, Grisham said, no one was flouting the law.
But Rep. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, had a different take on the issue.
Otondo said she has nothing against weapons, boasting of her 20-gauge shotgun.
“And I like a nice Sunday morning with a cup of coffee out at the range,” she said.
“I believe in our right to own weapons,” Otondo continued. “But that’s not what this is about.”
Otondo said she believes the statute banning weapons in public buildings means what it says, without exception for lawmakers. But she said there’s also the issue of what guns do to the demeanor at the House.
“Some of our members feel threatened because others are carrying guns,” she said.
Rep. John Allen, R-Phoenix, a native New Yorker, told colleagues he has never owned a gun, nor ever shot one. But Allen said he understands the desire of some legislators to be armed.
“We are increasingly a target of people with bad intentions,” he said. Allen said that justifies lawmakers arming themselves.
“As individuals, if that’s what you choose to do, you should be able to defend yourself,” Allen said, pointing out there are no metal detectors or other security measures at the House entrances to keep people with guns from getting into the gallery that overlooks the House floor.
“This place is wide open,” he said. “This can be a scary place.”
Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, disputed that contention.
“I do not think this is a scary place,” she said. And Fernandez said she believes that Gowan’s policy puts lawmakers “above the law.”
Campbell, however, said there’s one big difference between the public and lawmakers like him: an election.
“All of us members have been vetted,” he said.
“We’ve been vetted by the people,” Campbell continued. “We’ve gone through many, many processes just to be in this House.”
There is a similar policy, sort of, across the courtyard. Senate President Andy Biggs said there’s an informal “don’t ask, don’t tell” understanding: Senators don’t divulge whether they’re armed and Senate leadership doesn’t ask them.