A Republican-supported gun bill making its way through the Arizona Legislature has Democrats up in arms.
Senate Bill 1201, otherwise known as the firearms omnibus bill, would make it legal to carry firearms into government and public buildings. The bill passed the Senate by a 21-8 vote last month, before moving on to the House, where it was progressing through the legislative process as of our press deadline.
The law would apply to all public and government buildings—including stadiums and arenas.
"This is a spit in the face of Southern Arizona," says Democratic Rep. Steve Farley, the assistant House minority leader. "This compromises our safety."
Not so fast, counters Rep. Terry Proud, who says that if anything, the bill would help protect the citizens of Arizona.
Proud points to the section of the bill saying that people carrying guns into public buildings can be disarmed—as long as various requirements are followed, including placing metal detectors and gun lockers near a building's entrances. If building managers don't take such steps, people must be allowed to enter with their guns, according to the bill.
"It is creating a layer of safety for those who are walking into an unarmed facility," Proud says. "I believe this bill stops the enemy at the front gate."
Farley begs to differ, and says that no matter how the bill's supporters spin it, the bill would bring forth a big risk if agencies cannot afford to properly outfit their buildings' entrances.
Adding the required provisions to buildings could cost anywhere between $5,000 and $95,000 per entrance, according to the bill.
"This bill lacks common sense," Farley says. "It underlines where this bill came from."
The bill is actually the model of common sense, says Duke Schechter, membership director of the Arizona Citizens Defense League.
Schechter says the bill reflects the common knowledge that criminals do not follow the law, and that law-abiding citizens are the only people who readily give up their guns when asked to do so. This leaves innocent lives at the mercy of those who choose not to follow no-gun signs, he says.
"If you're going to disarm me, protect me," Schechter says. "Only those who obey the law will obey the law."
By pushing such bills as the firearms omnibus and SB 1467—which would allow firearms on public rights of way at educational institutions (see "Defense or Danger?" Currents, March 17)—Republicans are growing more and more out of touch with an electorate that may choose to clean house during the next round of state elections, says Democratic state Sen. Paula Aboud.
"I think the citizens have just about had it with these gun measures," Aboud says. "I don't see people carrying guns. It's not a big priority."
Instead, the Legislature should be focusing on education and helping the environment, she says.
"There's some real extreme thinking here," she says about Republicans holding state office. "This state is way more moderate than the Legislature."
Charles Heller, secretary of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, disagrees; he claims the Republicans' recent gun bills reflect the will of the people who voted in a conservative Legislature.
"(Democrats) want to restrict people's lives," Heller says. "They don't understand reality."
He says that if anything, the bill would tighten Arizona gun laws, as it would ultimately lead to building managers enforcing disarmament, instead of just asking for it.
"There's nothing controversial about it," Heller says. "We're trying to avoid another Giffords shooting."
But Farley counters that if the supporters of SB 1201 really cared about preventing another Jan. 8-style shooting, Republicans would get behind legislation like HB 2711, a bill that would have banned the high-capacity gun magazines similar to the ones allegedly carried and used by Jared Loughner.
The bill, sponsored by Farley and a number of other Democrats, failed to even make it to a committee vote.
"We've seen that (loosening gun laws) has consequences, serious consequences," Farley says.
Republicans could have taken up the cause of safety following the Jan. 8 shooting that left six dead and 13 wounded, but instead are ignoring the lessons of that day by pushing pro-gun bills through the Legislature, Aboud says.
For Aboud, the blame starts at the top.
"Where the heck is our vacant, absent governor?" she says. "She could have scored a lot of points with the public, but she hasn't said or done anything. I'm not even sure it occurred to her."
Heller counters that such blame games are misleading, because the problem isn't about one side forgetting the recent past. Instead, there are differing opinions on how to be safe, Heller says.
"There are more guns in the U.S. than people. We know that," Heller says. "Do (Democrats) really think they are going to stop the nuts?"
Schechter says he understands the opposition to gun bills like SB 1201, but that people should realize no bill or law is without flaws.
"There is no perfect law," he says. "We do the best we can."
Aboud says that bills like SB 1201 and SB 1467 are breeding a culture of fear—and fear and guns do not mix, she says.
"(Republicans) are going to keep on pushing and pushing," Aboud says. "I think people are fearing more and more."
Proud replies that such bills lead to the opposite of fear.
"We need tough laws," Proud says. "No one wins a fight against a criminal with a feather."