A proposed state law would let gun owners sue city council members or county supervisors personally if those governments pass or try to enforce gun laws that are stricter than state law.
Under the bill, HB 2517, courts could hit individual elected officials with civil penalties of up to $5,000 for passing an ordinance out of compliance with state law.
Critics contend a number of recent Tucson actions are out of compliance, including: a gun buyback and destruction program; a ban on gun shows at the Tucson Convention Center; a law requiring police notification of a lost or stolen gun; and mandating those who use a gun in a crime take an alcohol breath test. Although Attorney General Tom Horne issued an opinion questioning the breath test and reporting requirement, no court has found any of the ordinances illegal.
Anyone who enforces an illegal ordinance would be subject to penalties as well.
That could include the chief of police, zoning officials, the Tucson Convention Center director or anyone else involved with upholding a law.
The bill would also prohibit a city from spending taxpayer money defending an official in court. It would allow residents or organizations to sue a city or county for up to $100,000 in damages.
Supporters say it finally holds local officials responsible for skirting the law.
“After 13 years of ignoring state law, it’s time for city council members to have consequences for their actions the way normal citizens do,” said Todd Rathner, a lobbyist for the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association and a National Rifle Association board member.
Rathner said the Legislature has been playing cat and mouse with local municipalities over gun laws. He said this bill puts some “teeth” into state gun laws and is intended to prevent local municipalities from flouting the rules any longer.
“If a city council member wants to continue to play this game, then it ought to be at their cost, not at the public’s cost,” Rathner said. “They sit there behind this wall of money and think they can flip it around however they want defending these stupid actions.”
Rathner said politicians like Councilman Steve Kozachik tempt the state into legal action and pass unconstitutional gun laws because it comes with added notoriety for them and no financial risk.
“He’s basically campaigning as an anti-gun zealot on the backs of the citizens of Tucson,” Rathner said. “And we don’t think he should be allowed to do it.”
Kozachik defended the city’s recent gun ordinances and said this latest bill demonstrates how far the gun lobby has drifted away from reality.
“These guys are just unhinged when it comes to their unrealistic fear that people are out to confiscate their guns,” Kozachik said. “We’ve passed a few, very rational ordinances. … Threatening to sue over things like that just show how out of touch these guys are with the common sense mainstream public.”
Rathner said the bill is based on a similar law passed in Florida about five years ago to prevent cities from snubbing their nose at state law.
Tucson attorney Dave Hardy, who specializes in gun and constitutional law, said the bill, if passed, would likely pass constitutional muster.
“I see stronger stuff than that every day,” Hardy said. “They can bust someone for driving under the influence on the basis of his having smoked (marijuana) two weeks ago.”
Hardy said turnaround is fair game.
“Given all that the states, cities and counties do to us, I’m more than happy to see some of that done back to them,” he said.
Over 30 state senators and representatives have lined up to sponsor the bill.
One of them, Rep. Adam Kwasman R-Oro Valley, said the Second Amendment “needs to be protected at all cost.”
The bill will ensure cities and counties adhere to the state’s gun laws and prevent them from violating citizens’ gun rights, Kwasman said.
Rathner said the bill is a top priority this session and he and others “will be watching very carefully how legislators vote on it.”