PHOENIX - Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday signed legislation to eliminate the law that makes it a crime to carry a hidden gun without obtaining a state-issued permit.
The law will take effect 91 days after the Legislature adjourns, something now scheduled for the end of the month.
"I believe this legislation not only protects the Second Amendment rights of Arizona citizens, but restores those rights as well," Brewer said in a prepared statement.
Arizona adults who have not been convicted of felonies have always been allowed to carry sidearms openly. The right to have a concealed firearm was added in 1994.
But that requires a state-issued permit. And to get that, applicants need to pass a one-day course that covers everything from when state law allows the use of deadly force to proving the ability to handle and fire the gun. It also requires a background check.
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Paul Senseman, the governor's spokesman, said Brewer believes that distinction is not justified.
"If you carry a weapon and it's exposed, it's totally legal," he said. "But if your T-shirt hangs over it, you've got a coat over the top of it, you're carrying it illegally."
And Senseman said Brewer does not believe Arizonans should need a "permission slip from the government" to exercise their constitutional right to carry guns just because of that difference.
Senseman acknowledged the law eliminates the requirement for instruction on the law and in handling a firearm. He said Brewer does support people getting some training before carrying a gun.
Carrying a hidden firearm now without a permit is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
When the law takes effect, it will make Arizona the third state to let any adult who can legally own a gun carry a concealed firearm without getting a permit. The other two states are Alaska and Vermont.
The signing came on the anniversary of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, where a gunman killed 32 students before turning his gun on himself. Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, the architect of this legislation, said that's only appropriate.
"Somebody could have saved those students if it had not been for government restrictions," he said, calling the massacre "the result of gun laws that restrict citizens."
The new law does not wipe out the ability to get a state-issued permit. And there are some benefits to having one.
One of the biggest is that other laws now prohibit carrying a gun into any bar or restaurant where alcohol is served. But a law approved by legislators last year and signed by Brewer creates an exception for those who have a concealed-carry permit.
The other is that most states that still require permission to have a concealed firearm honor Arizona's permit; other Arizonans who carry a hidden gun to other states would remain subject to arrest.
But another provision of the new law actually eases the requirements to get a state-issued permit. While completing a gun-safety course approved by the Department of Public Safety would remain one option, anyone seeking a permit could also qualify through hunter education or safety courses approved by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, evidence of current military service or honorable discharge from U.S. armed forces, or completing any National Rifle Association firearms safety or training course.
The new law applies only to those at least 21 years old. And concealed-carry permits are not available to those who are younger.
Anyone younger than 21 would still be prohibited from carrying a concealed firearm on property that does not belong to that person, a parent, grandparent or legal guardian. But the new law does narrow the definition so that a firearm is not considered concealed if any part of the gun or holster is visible.
Opposition to the measure came from the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police. Lobbyist John Thomas told lawmakers that enacting the change "will take Arizona back to the Wild West ... with no consideration of officer safety."
Pearce scoffed at those concerns.
He pointed out that police groups, including the then-director of the state Department of Public Safety, opposed the original 1994 law, predicting it would lead to officer shootings - which did not happen, Pearce said.
The new law does, however, require anyone stopped by a police officer to disclose whether he or she is carrying a concealed weapon and to let the officer take temporary possession of the gun while the person is being questioned.