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Senate president kills bill raising standards for prosecution in gunfire cases

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The president of the state Senate is quashing legislation that would have made it harder to prosecute people for firing off weapons within city limits.

Steve Yarbrough, R-Chandler, said Monday he does not accept claims by proponents of HB 2287 that existing law results in people being arrested for legitimate accidents with their weapons.

Yarbrough said he believes that prosecutors would use their discretion before charging someone with a felony.

Conversely, Yarbrough said he does not want to do anything to undermine the ability to go after violators of “Shannon’s Law,” the 2000 legislation that was designed to deter people from firing their weapons into the air.

“I’ve just studied this on my own,” said Yarbrough, who is an attorney. “I think it’s unnecessary.”

Yarbrough gets to exercise a one-person veto because he chairs the Senate Rules Committee through which all bills must pass before going to the floor. And since he won’t hear the bill, it is dead for this year.

Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, who shepherded the legislation through the House and through the Senate Government Committee, did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

But Dave Kopp, lobbyist for the Arizona Citizens Defense League, said Yarbrough is off base with his claim that no one is ever prosecuted for a true accident.

He cited an incident where a man was charged after bringing a newly purchased weapon back to his apartment. Kopp said the gun went off when the man was trying to remove a round stuck in the chamber.

“It was a stupid thing to do,” Kopp said. But he said it should not have resulted in criminal charges.

Yarbrough, however, said he sees the legislation from the perspective of weakening the 2000 law named after 14-year-old Shannon Smith, a Phoenix teen who died in 1999 when she was hit by a bullet that had been fired in the air from some distance away. No one was ever arrested.

It makes it a felony to act with “criminal negligence” to discharge a firearm within the limits of any city. That is defined as someone acting in a way that fails to perceive the risk of a situation that a reasonable person would see.

Rivero sought to bar anyone being charged unless prosecutors could show that the firing of the weapon was intentional, knowing or reckless, a more difficult thing to prove. He said that would ensure that a true accident does not result in felony charges.

Yarbrough, however, said that change is unacceptable.

“That pretty clearly makes it more difficult to charge a crime in that context,” he said, saying he likes the law the way it is.

Yarbrough, however, is not going to block HB 2022, a separate measure which would create a different exception to Shannon’s Law allowing people to fire off ammunition with what has been called “rat shot” or “snake shot” within city limits.

These are .22-caliber shells loaded with pellets 1.3 millimeters or less in diameter. For comparison, grains of sand can be as small as 2 millimeters.

“I see a relatively significant distinction between the two bills,” Yarbrough said.

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