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Republicans accuse Democrats of political theater over gun legislation

Democrats say the charge rings hollow

Students from various schools in Arizona sit in the gallery of the state House of Representatives. Students across the country participated in an anti-gun March for Our Lives in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

Students from various schools in Arizona sit in the gallery of the state House of Representatives on March 14, 2018. Students across the country participated in an anti-gun March for Our Lives in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, that left 17 people dead. (Photo by Katie Campbell/Arizona Capitol Times)

A Prescott Republican lawmaker lashed out at Democrats Thursday, accusing them of being more interested in political “theater” than solving the question of gun violence in schools.

And that brought a sharp retort from the Democrats.

Rep. Noel Campbell said all lawmakers are upset about the shootings at Majory Stoneman High School in Florida, and he acknowledged the anger and frustration of students who walked out of their classrooms a day earlier on the one-month anniversary of that event.

“But I have a feeling some of you down here just want to be seen and not do anything,” Campbell said in his floor speech, citing not only the presence of students in the gallery on March 14 but also Democrats taking close to an hour to introduce the students by name and call attention to them and their demands for changes in state gun laws.

That, Campbell said, is not the way “to get things done.”

“It hardens positions,” he said, with the “theater” of Wednesday resulting in many Republicans choosing to leave the floor rather than sit through the introduction of individual students and the Democrat floor speeches.

“You drove us out of here,” Campbell said, saying Democrats are not interested in working with Republicans.

“You want to make an example of us. You want to embarrass us,” he said. “Well, see how effective that is.”

Campbell said if Democrats are interested in legislative solutions, they should forego these kinds of public spectacles and instead work with Republicans behind closed doors.

But Rep. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said that call rings hollow.

“We are not given the opportunity,” she responded.

Gonzales pointed out that Rep. Randy Friese, D-Tucson, introduced several measures this year he says would address the issue of gun violence. They include allowing judges to order the emergency removal of weapons from homes of those who are considered a danger and closing the “gun show loophole” that allows weapons to be transferred without checking whether the buyer is legally allowed to own a weapon.

None of them got even a committee hearing.

She also pointed out that, when Friese used a procedural maneuver to bring the measure on background checks directly to the floor so it could be voted, it was defeated in the Republican-controlled House on a party-line vote.

And that, Gonzales said, leaves Democrats with the one tool they have: floor speeches.

“We do not grandstand just to grandstand,” she said. “We are here to make a difference, just like you are, Rep. Campbell.”

Rep. Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma, echoed the sentiment.

“We are not afforded the same opportunities as you are,” she said. And Fernandez said there’s a good reason there were students at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“When they come and sit in the gallery they expect us to express their views,” she said, reminding lawmakers that each of them got elected because of the constituents. “Those kids wanted their voices to be heard.”

But Rep. Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, had a different take on what happened Wednesday.

“In my view, I think a lot of those students were played,” he said.

Kern said he is sure the students who showed up were real in their emotions.

“I’m sure they want to go to safe schools,” he said. But Kern questioned the commitment of Democrats to that issue.

He said during the time Barack Obama was president, there were 14 mass shootings. At the same time, Kern said, the Democrats had control of both the U.S. House and Senate.

“If they were so concerned about guns at that time, they could have pushed through gun legislation the same way that they pushed through Obamacare,” he said.

Wednesday’s events at the Capitol, which culminated in a two-hour sit-in at the office of Gov. Doug Ducey when he did not come out to meet with the students, are unlikely to be the last word. A “National Day of Action” is set for March 24.

Ducey has said he is meeting with various interests and has promised to come up with his own legislative proposal, possibly as early as next week.

The governor has hinted that could include something similar to Friese’s bill on emergency seizure of weapons. But he has been openly cool to requiring background checks any time a weapon is bought and sold.

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