Lawmakers: Ducey silent on pushing gun control measure

Ben Giles//August 6, 2019

Lawmakers: Ducey silent on pushing gun control measure

Ben Giles//August 6, 2019

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey talks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019, following his meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey talks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 3, 2019, following his meeting with President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In the wake of yet another round of mass shooting, this time in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, Gov. Doug Ducey is again touting a policy that would allow judges to force people determined to be a danger to themselves or others to surrender their weapons, at least temporarily. 

Those Severe Threat Orders of Protection, more commonly referred to as STOP orders, have been described by the governor himself as the “crown jewel” of a gun safety plan concocted in the wake of a 2018 shooting at a Parkland Florida high school, an event that prompted Arizona high schoolers to launch their own protests urging the governor to enact gun control measures.

Ducey failed to guide that policy through the Legislature in 2018, when it was panned by Republicans as too restrictive and Democrats as too weak. Later that year, Ducey vowed he hadn’t given up on STOP orders, calling it “the one tool that could have eliminated the mass shootings that have happened in other places in the country.”

For all the talk, the 2019 session came and went without any legislative push to adopt the policy.

It’s disingenuous for Ducey to claim STOP orders as a priority if the governor won’t even introduce a bill to make it happen, said Rep. Daniel Hernandez, a Democrat a survivor of a 2011 mass shooting in his Tucson-based district.

“If this were a priority for [Ducey]… he would’ve started pushing a bill way before where we are now,” Hernandez said. “It’s well into August, and it’s only because there’s been another two incidents that he would say, ‘maybe we need to do this.’”

Ducey has passed blame onto legislators, some of whom oppose his efforts at gun control. But the governor is typically someone who gets his way, Hernandez said, even when faced with reluctant lawmakers from his own party.

This past session, Hernandez noted, Ducey managed to force unwilling GOP lawmakers to vote for a plan to set aside more than $1 billion in the rainy day fund.

In 2018, Ducey managed to bend Republican wills in order to curry enough favor for a university bonding package.

“When he wants something, he gets it,” Hernandez said. “I can’t think of a single time the governor has come out, put his energy behind something, it hasn’t gone through.”

Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said the governor hopes his latest push for STOP orders will pay off.

“This is an idea that’s time has come,” Ptak said. “We remain hopeful both sides can come together to advance commonsense policies that make a meaningful impact.”

But Ptak would not pledge that Ducey would ensure a bill creating STOP orders gets sponsored in 2020. The governor’s work on the issue should not be judged simply by what’s happening with actual, sponsored legislation, Ptak said.

“You’re only looking at action that occurred on the surface,” Ptak said. “As I mentioned, there was a lot of action on this, and there was a lot of discussion and work being done to try and move this policy forward.”

How much action occurred behind the scenes is even up for debate, however, as Ptak and lawmakers have differed in their descriptions of the interaction between the Legislature and the Ninth Floor.

Hernandez was one of two Democratic lawmakers in 2019 to sponsor legislation in the same vein as Ducey’s STOP order proposal – Hernandez describes his own bill as more of a “red flag” law, a policy Ducey compared to his own in a statement this week.

While Hernandez said he had the opportunity to meet with the governor’s staff during session, his own “red flag” bill was never a part of the conversation, Hernandez said. Nor was Ducey’s STOP order policy.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate also say they heard nothing from Ducey or his staff about STOP orders, save for the policy getting a shout out in the governor’s State of the State address in January.

Senate President Karen Fann and Bowers told the Arizona Mirror in April that if the governor’s staff is talking to anyone about STOP orders, it isn’t them. Fann, R-Prescott, said her staff hadn’t heard “a peep” from Ducey’s staff, as did Bowers, R-Mesa.

By then, Bowers noted, it was almost too late anyway, as the bill introduction deadline had long passed, as had the deadline for bills to be heard in committees.

Fann reiterated Tuesday that she heard nothing from Ducey about STOP orders during session.

Ptak has consistently disputed this. Ptak told the Mirror in April, and told the Arizona Capitol Times on Monday, that Republican leaders, as well as Democratic lawmakers, were among many groups and individuals consulted by the governor’s staff this spring as they worked behind the scenes in favor of Ducey’s gun safety measures.

“It’s something that his staff worked diligently on throughout the session with lawmakers from both parties,” Ptak said. “As we do with any policy, we take the approach of what can we do to give it the best chance of success, so our efforts were very much focused on that.”

That lawmakers can’t even agree on the scope of Ducey’s behind-the-scenes efforts to get the Legislature to adopt his gun safety policy highlights the uncertainty of whether, after the latest round of mass shootings – and the latest rounds of calls to action – any action will actually take place.

Fann, who controls the flow of legislation in the Senate, told the Capitol Times that she hasn’t had any discussions regarding gun safety measures with her caucus since the end of session in May.

Bowers struck a different tone, stating that lawmakers “certainly need to explore ways to keep guns out of the hands of domestic terrorists and the dangerously mentally ill. I expect my colleagues will introduce a wide range of bills next year designed to prevent mass shootings, and I look forward to discussion and consideration of them.”

Count Democrats among those who are skeptical that Bowers’ statement is nothing more than lip service.

Rep. Randy Friese, a Tucson Democrat and trauma surgeon who helped operate on victims of Arizona’s own mass shooting in 2011, tweeted that no gun control measures have been voted on, let alone heard in committee, in the five years he’s served in the House.

Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, echoed that sentiment, noting that Democrats routinely sponsor gun control measures that never get a hearing, or even assigned to committees, by Republican leadership.

“There’s a lot of big talk right now. Let’s see if they follow through when it matters. The 2020 Legislative session starts in January,” Quezada tweeted Tuesday morning. “I’m certain @AZSenateDems and @AZHouseDems will be dropping the same common sense #GunReform bills we’ve dropped for years. Will they be heard?”

As for the governor’s own efforts, Ptak said that Ducey shouldn’t be judged by whether or not a bill was passed in 2019, let alone introduced.

But Ducey’s own comments about the Legislature don’t inspire confidence that he’ll find legislative success in 2020. When asked why he didn’t even introduce a bill to create a STOP order policy in 2019, Ducey blamed senators and representatives.

“It’s oftentimes difficult to do things proactively in certain settings,” the governor told the Capitol Times in June. By certain settings, Ducey made clear he meant the Legislature, though he wouldn’t comment on what in particular was challenging about it: “I think that’d be a question for the legislative setting.”

Come 2020, little will have changed about that legislative setting, given that all the lawmakers who comprise the Legislature that Ducey blames for making STOP orders a tough sell will still be in office for at least one more year.

In the meantime, Ducey and Republican officials tout what the governor has achieved on his gun safety agenda. The governor praised lawmakers for approving more funds for school counselors and cops on campuses as part of school safety measures. And the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, a body of the state’s top law enforcement officials, highlighted efforts to improve the state’s criminal history database as part of the National Instant Criminal Background Check system. 

In the future, if Ducey pursues STOP orders legislatively, Hernandez said he hopes those discussions include a diverse group of individuals and organizations, even those who may not agree with one another.

A good place to start, Hernandez said, would be survivors of gun violence such as himself and fellow Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix.

“If I hear from him or his people, I’ll let you know,” Hernandez said, “but as of right now it’s been radio silence.”