Gun rights lobby sets sights on public buildings
Our view: Unnecessary law should be stripped of provision that would allow people to carry weapons if lockers are full
The state House of Representatives has passed a bill that could be dangerous not only to the public but to every member of the Arizona Legislature. It could make it legal for citizens to enter City Hall or the Capitol armed with a loaded gun.
The bill expands an existing law that says public buildings that prohibit guns must provide storage so that a gun owner can stow his or her weapon before entering.
That law, passed last year, was clearly a concession to the gun rights lobby. It was a way of saying to state and local governments, if you're going to restrict our constitutional right to bear arms, then you'd better make an accommodation for us.
It sounded suspiciously like a not-so-subtle threat: Separate us from our guns and we'll tie your system in knots. In a practical sense, the law had little value. Most gun owners don't see any need to carry a weapon when they go to renew their car's registration or apply for a passport.
One of the arguments made to justify the law was that women being stalked or harassed by a former mate may need a weapon. But the argument is diluted by the fact that every law enforcement agency in the state, and the Department of Public Safety in particular, has vehemently opposed this bill.
But the gun lobby had to make its point. Fine. That law passed last year and, as a result, many facilities — Pima County's main library Downtown is one — now provide storage lockers.
The Downtown library has four lockers. You can put a pistol or a knife in a locker and an attendant will hand you the key. Under present law, you can't put a shotgun or a rifle in there; they won't fit. But if the latest bill from State Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, passes, that will change.
State Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, wrote in the newsletter he sends to his constituents, "Those lockers must be installed at public expense and must be large enough to hold any weapon, from a handgun to a Howitzer."
Here's what makes the expanded law particularly dangerous: "If the lockers are not installed, or the weapon does not fit, or if the lockers are all filled, the weapon owner would be allowed to carry the weapon anywhere in the building," Farley declared.
That condition is in both the House and Senate versions. Some smaller details remain to be ironed out between the two versions, but if this bill passes, the governor should veto it.
The law opens up some strange possibilities. For example, what happens if someone goes to City Hall and stores his weapon in a locker using a phony name, then goes to a bar and sells the weapon to a stranger who happens to be a felon? He need only give the buyer the phony name and the key to the locker.
In this case, the law could easily prove detrimental to public safety.
Another possibility: What happens if the Legislature holds a hearing on a proposed gun bill and 50 members of the National Rifle Association, all carrying weapons, show up to comment, but the House of Representatives has only 20 storage lockers? The remaining 30 individuals would be permitted to bring guns into the building.
We understand that in most cases this isn't likely to be a problem, but no one can guarantee the mental stability of every member of every group, or the possibility of an accident. We can, however, limit our risks by insisting on reasonable restrictions on guns.
It is unwise to jeopardize government employees or other citizens who need to conduct business at City Hall, the public library or the Motor Vehicle Division, to name just a few places.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said his group opposes some of the bill's provisions.
"We oppose the parts of it that require equipment and personnel, like an attendant, and the goofy nature of the check-in, check-out process, but we're not opposed to all aspects of it," he declared.
This bill creates yet another unfunded mandate for cities and towns. Communities must comply, but receive no money for implementation. The full implications of this bill have not been carefully thought out, and in its present form it seems a good candidate for the Dumpster.