Joan Rivers used the catch-line "Can we talk?" Our state Legislature should heed the request.
Last week, several bills related to common-sense gun control were proposed up in Phoenix. On a recent "AZ Illustrated" round table, leadership from the state Senate made it clear that the bills won't be given hearings in committee. The reason? Because they're "contentious" and some members of the Republican caucus don't want to have to deal with the issue of firearms in public.
God forbid that they'd do their jobs and conduct the people's business out in the light of day.
The bills were proposed by Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson. They address the need to conduct background checks on person-to-person gun sales, and the need to discuss high-capacity magazines. The Tucson City Council adopted a background-check requirement on person-to-person sales that take place on city-owned or -managed property. At the time we were discussing the item (publicly, I might add), I made the point that we'd love to see the county and state follow our lead. That won't happen if the bills aren't even allowed a hearing.
The Legislature is the venue for the public deliberation of issues that affect the lives of the residents of the state. To bind up bills and elect to not even openly debate their merits is a cowardly abdication of an elected official's responsibilities. That is precisely what is occurring up in Phoenix. Because the topic is "contentious" and might cause some discomfort within the party caucus, the bills will be left for dead this season.
Next year? Well, it's an election year, and we all know that pols won't touch tough issues while they're up for election. The clear message from the leadership in Phoenix is that they don't have the guts to openly debate the issues framed by Sen. Lopez's bills.
Poll after poll shows that there is overwhelming support for background checks on person-to-person gun sales. Polls also show that the general public wants rational limits on the functionality of high-capacity magazines. And yet, if the Senate leadership has its way, we'll ignore the will of the public and simply continue with business as usual. That's the easy way out.
Former state Sen. Paula Aboud was also on the round-table show. She correctly stated that the public deserves to hear the discussion on this very timely and sensitive topic. We took a public position at the local level, and we called on the state to do the same.
It is said that gun control is one of the "third rails" of political debate. The reason is that it brings out special-interest groups whose previous successes have been in shouting down the opposition or threatening to fund opponents in upcoming elections. But political office is not nor was it ever conceived to be a career path. It is indeed ironic that it is those limited-government advocates who rail against "career pols" who are stifling this discussion by refusing to allow public debate on the bills.
A friend recently asked me when I'm going to "get off from the gun issue." My answer is simply when the powers that be among our elected officials allow for the public airing of the issues, and when they conclude that airing with the adoption of some common-sense statutes that "well regulate" the use of firearms in our state.
The First Amendment preceded the Second. Note to the Legislature: Exercise your rights under the First Amendment, in public, to speak about the issues surrounding the Second Amendment. That's why you were elected.
Steve Kozachik is a Tucson city councilman. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org