State senators voted Tuesday for what was crafted as a comprehensive school and public safety plan — but not before Republicans removed a key provision designed to take guns away from dangerous people.
SB 1519, approved on a 17-13 party line vote, still allows police to ask a judge to have someone brought in for mental evaluation. And judges remain able to order temporary removal of weapons if there is “clear and convincing evidence” the person is a danger to self or others.
But Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, took out language which also would have allowed family members, school administrators, probation officers, behavioral health professionals, roommates and “significant others” to go to court to seek what are known as Severe Threat Orders of Protection.
“This amendment guts this bill, period,” said Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.
Smith disagreed, saying that parents and others who believe someone is a danger still have the option of calling police who, in turn, could start the court process. Farley was unconvinced, saying law enforcement officers already have more than enough to do than go out and investigate every time someone calls with a complaint that a friend or family member is acting erratically and should be evaluated to see if their guns should be taken away.
In stripping the provision, Smith had the support of his GOP colleagues.
But there is one Republican whose blessing for the somewhat stripped-down bill is missing: Gov. Doug Ducey. In fact, it was top Ducey aides who, in unveiling the legislation earlier this year, stressed the importance of family members and school administrators in keeping schools safe and, in a larger sense, protecting the public against mass shootings.
Daniel Ruiz, one of Ducey’s policy advisers, cited the 2011 mass shooting in Tucson by Jared Loughner that killed six and injured 13 including then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“Jared Loughner actually was feared by his parents,” Ruiz said. “His parents would take away his gun at night … because they feared he was a danger to himself or to others.”
Ducey aides also cited the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, saying the the former student who killed 17 students and faculty members there in February had been called to the shooter’s home 39 times during a seven-year period. They said the suspect made threat to attack the school in 2016 and was caught with a “gun-related object” in his backpack.
Elimination of the provision could put Ducey in a tough position if the watered-down version of SB 1519 reaches his desk.
“Absolutely the governor crafted this because he wanted to give parents and educators another mechanism, another tool to report these things and have them dealt with,” said gubernatorial press aide Daniel Scarpinato.
“He wants to see it included in a final bill,” he said. “He would like to see the bill that he put forward on his desk.”
But Scarpinato said Ducey recognizes he has to work with the Legislature.
The bill’s future is clouded by opposition from House Republicans, who before Tuesday’s vote in the Senate had expressed concerns with the bill as proposed by Ducey.
The governor already has had to jettison some of the things he had proposed.
For example, the original plan would have made it a felony for someone to leave a gun around in a way that a minor could get access to it.
During floor debate Tuesday, Sen. Lupe Contreras, D-Avondale, sought to restore that language. Contreras, who is a gun owner, said it simply reflects responsible gun ownership.
Republicans were unconvinced, rejecting the proposal.
Ducey’s plan also would have denied state-issued permits to carry concealed weapons to individuals with outstanding arrest warrants. And it would have said that simply because a felon has a conviction set aside should not automatically translate into restoration of the right to have a gun.
Neither were in the version that Smith brought to the Senate floor. And Smith took the lead on Tuesday in blocking various amendments offered by Democrats.
For example, Sen. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson, sought a ban on “bump stocks,” devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire off hundreds of rounds a minute.
Smith opposed it, saying it is being considered at the federal level, a reference to President Trump directing the Department of Justice to review federal laws and rules. That did not satisfy Cajero Bedford who cited the 58 killed and 851 injured in Las Vegas.
“We can do this right now today,” she said.
Smith was still not convinced, saying the wording of the proposed ban would affect the ability of people who are handicapped to go hunting.
Republicans also rejected a bid by Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Tempe, to add funding for more school counselors.
And Farley had no luck in proposing that weapons can be sold in Arizona only if the buyer goes through the same kind of background check now required when a gun is sold by a licensed firearm dealer.
Farley pointed out that much of the bill is based on the concept of keeping weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them. That includes any court order precluding someone judged to be a danger to self or others from possessing a weapon.
But putting that person’s name on a list of prohibited possessors would block only sales made by licensed dealers.
“If you’re going to keep people from having guns, if they’re a danger to others or themselves … then why would you give such large loopholes where people are prohibited from having guns could go to the gun show, go to the Internet or go to their buddy and buy a gun without a background check?” he asked.
“This infringes on responsible people being able to own a firearm,” said Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City.
And Sen. Katie Hobbs, D-Phoenix, had no better luck with a proposal to require that people report stolen weapons to police. Smith said that’s not fair, as nothing in state law requires people to file police reports when jewelry or automobiles are stolen.