New push to allow guns in public buildings

PHOENIX -- Undeterred by prior vetoes, gun-rights advocates are making a new push to allow some people to bring their weapons into public buildings.

But this time, with a new governor, they're hoping for a different result.

Existing law allows the operators of public buildings to prohibit weapons by posting a sign and providing lockers where armed individuals can check their weapons. SB 1257 would add an additional requirement of security guards and metal detectors.

And if a government agency balked at doing that, whether for cost or any other reason, then the more than 252,000 Arizonans who have state-issued permits to carry concealed weapons could ignore the signs and keep their guns with them.

SB 1257 wasn't the only gun-rights measure approved Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The panel also voted to allow lawsuits against any city that knowingly and willfully enacts gun regulations in excess of what the Legislature has permitted. And if a court agrees, it can assess a civil penalty up to $50,000 and remove public officials from office.

SB 1266 is aimed largely at Tucson which has refused to repeal two gun regulations that former Attorney General Tm Horne concluded in 2013 are beyond the city's authority.

One allows police to request a breath sample from someone who has negligently discharged a firearm and appears intoxicated. The other requires people to report the loss or theft of a gun to police.

The city has ignored Horne's formal legal opinion. Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, said this new legislation puts some teeth into existing laws that preempt local gun laws.

But Todd Rathner, lobbyist for the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, the state arm of the National Rifle Association, said the law is needed to curb incursions by other communities into the Second Amendment rights of citizens. He specifically cited a 2013 bid by Yavapai County to restrict a rancher from having a gun range on his own property.

The broader measure goes to the question of what Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said is the right of people to be able to defend themselves.

"If you honestly believe that a sign on the door -- and that's it -- keeps weapons out, I think that's dishonest,' he said.

Kavanagh said law-abiding citizens see the signs, presume there are no weapons in the building, and decide to check their own gun or leave it in the car.

"But you don't know that,' he said. "The only way you can know for sure that there's no guns in the building is if you're screening.'

And only if there is such screening, Kavanagh said, can visitors who leave their guns outside be sure that they're safe in the buildings.

The proposal drew criticism from Dale Wiebusch of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns. He cited estimates that it would cost communities about $100,000 to put guards and a metal detector at each public entrance to a building.Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed similar legislation several times, citing that issue of cost.

"This bill would establish an unfunded mandate on our state and local governments,' she wrote in 2014. `It is an unnecessary diversion of limited resources.'

Smith, however, said there's a much less expensive option: Let CCW permit holders keep their weapons.

Current Gov. Doug Ducey has not had a chance to weigh in on the issue. Nearly identical legislation last year never reached his desk.

Both measures now need full Senate approval before going to the House.

On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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