Arizona Plan Would Ease Gun Laws in Wake of Tucson Shooting

After January's Tucson shooting, members of Congress are calling for extra security measures ranging from assigning personal security details to encasing the House gallery in bulletproof glass. But a group of Arizona state lawmakers is proposing a bill that would make it easier for citizens to carry guns inside government buildings in the Grand Canyon State.

The "Firearms Omnibus Bill," sponsored by Republican Sen. Ron Gould of Havasu City, would loosen a range of laws regulating firearms in a state already considered to be one of the most gun-friendly in the nation. Arizona's reputation was cemented last year after Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a measure allowing Arizonans to carry concealed weapons without a special permit - a leniency that has drawn fire from gun control activists.

If passed, the Firearms Omnibus Bill, or Senate Bill 1201, would change the wording in Arizona's concealed carry law to make allowances for people who, for example, forget that they are carrying a weapon and accidentally tell an officer they aren't armed.

The measure would also slacken regulations on packing heat inside many municipal facilities, courtrooms, city buses, and community colleges. Under current law, visitors to any government building must submit their weapons into custody if asked by a law enforcement official. And any public building can ban firearms if appropriate signage is posted and security lockers are provided for gun owners.

"This has had the perverse effect of disarming the law-abiding while allowing those with no respect for the law to remain armed at will," Arizona Citizens Defense League, the gun rights group behind the new bill, said in a January 24 statement.

A provision in the proposed legislation dictates that guns only can be banned from facilities that, in addition to posting the appropriate "No Firearms Allowed" sign and providing firearm lockers, also have a metal detector and armed security personnel.

Brian Malte, a spokesperson for the national Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, says the bill is just the latest volley in an ongoing effort by the firearm lobby to attack Arizona gun control regulations. "Quite frankly, they're not going to stop until there's a loaded gun virtually anywhere, for virtually anyone," he says.

He adds, "It's also outrageous after what happened in Tucson, the pro-gun people are pushing this kind of agenda, where they think more guns are going to make people safer."

But a representative of an Arizona law enforcement association spoke positively about the bill. Levi Bolton, a consultant with the 2,300-member Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, says that meetings about the nuts and bolts of the bill are ongoing, but that it generally supports measures like 1201.

"Law enforcement is taking a look at some of the issues to make sure we have not created any scenarios that could inadvertently put the public at risk," he says, adding, "Our men and women have had a longstanding history of open carry, and police officers have come to respect that. It goes on for decades."

And gun owners would be given an additional assurance under the legislation - government officials might be able to swipe their constituents' guns, but Arizonans can seize their public officials' cars.

If weapon-wielding citizens feel that the slackened restrictions still "adversely" affect them, they can sue. If they win and the government does not provide restitution within 72 hours, the bill permits the complainant to seize official vehicles used by "any elected officeholder in the appropriate political subdivision."

A committee hearing for the bill has not yet been scheduled.