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Legislature OKs bill to bar Arizona enforcement of any new US gun restrictions
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Legislature OKs bill to bar Arizona enforcement of any new US gun restrictions

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A display of guns for sale.

PHOENIX — If the federal government imposes new restrictions on guns it will have to enforce them without Arizona's help.

The state Senate approved legislation Tuesday — already passed by the House — that would make it illegal for state and local governments and employees to enforce, administer or cooperate with any federal law, act, treaty, rule or regulation that is "inconsistent with any law of this state regarding the regulation of firearms.''

The vote was 17-13 in the GOP-controlled Senate, sending the measure, House Bill 2111, to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who has repeatedly promoted himself as a strong supporter of the right to bear arms. 

Proponents contend the measure is simply about ensuring that the state will not play a role in infringing on Second Amendment rights.

Less clear — and not discussed during the Senate debate — is what current or future acts of of the federal government would be considered "inconsistent'' with Arizona laws and would forbid state or local cooperation.

Tuesday's vote came a week after a gunman entered a Colorado supermarket with what police said was an assault-style rifle and killed 10 people, including the first police officer to arrive at the scene.

The timing did not go unnoticed by Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale.

"We couldn't wait more than eight days before we put this bill back up on the (voting) board,'' he said. "We took some time for some mourning and some thoughts and prayers. And then we got right back to perpetuating the status quo right here in Arizona.''

Arizonans' right omits phrase "well-regulated militia"  

Arizona has its own version of the Second Amendment. "The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired,'' reads Article 2, Section 26.

And, unlike its federal counterpart, it has no reference to a "well-regulated militia,'' a term that has resulted in debate about what the U.S. Constitution's drafters had in mind.

Arizona's has led to laws that allow all adults to carry concealed weapons, with or without a state-issued permit. The state also allows people to carry guns on public streets near and through college and university campuses. It also permits individuals to sue when cities enact their own gun laws beyond what the Legislature permits.

The state has not challenged other federal laws, however, such as prohibiting weapons on public school campuses or at nuclear power plants. That led Sen. Lisa Otondo, D-Yuma, to question why the need for this particular bill.

"Nobody is trying to take away your guns, not for the protection of your family, your property, nor your Second Amendment right to own them,'' she said.

But gun owners' fears have been fanned by President Biden's election. 

For example, he has called for universal background checks, which would end the ability of Arizonans to make sales at gun shows without determining if the buyers are legally able to own a weapon. Arizona lawmakers have specifically declined to make that a requirement here.

Biden also has renewed calls for banning assault-style weapons, essentially semi-automatic rifles designed to look like military gear and that have detachable magazines.

Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, pointed out to colleagues that they swore an oath to uphold both the state and federal constitutions. She said a measure like this ignores the supremacy of federal laws.

But Sen. Sonny Borrelli, R-Lake Havasu City, said it's not that simple.

"We forget that the states created the federal government with very limited powers,'' something guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, he said.

"So if the federal government wants my firearms, they can get them out of my cold, dead hands,'' Borrelli said.

That was echoed by Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, who wrote the measure.

"If the zealous gun-grabbers in Washington try to disarm citizens in the name of political posturing, we're not going to allow it in Arizona,'' he said in prepared comments after the vote.

Otondo was the lone Democrat to vote for the measure, fulfilling what she said was a promise to her constituents. But she told colleagues that doesn't mean she supports unlimited restrictions on the purchase and use of firearms.

One restriction she would support is "severe threat orders of protection,'' known as STOP, which would allow a judge to determine if a person is a danger to themselves or others. If there is such a ruling, the individual would temporarily be barred from possession or purchasing firearms and would have to undergo a mental-health evaluation.

Ducey himself at one time pressed for STOP legislation in his State of the State speech only to have his bid rebuffed by the Legislature. He has not mentioned it again in the last two years.

Otondo said that's unfortunate. 

The brother of the suspect in the Colorado shooting described him to the Daily Beast as mentally ill, paranoid and antisocial. 

"There are common-sense moves that we as a country could make to better background checks so individuals who go to grocery stores cannot purchase a gun when their families knew they were mentally ill,'' Otondo said.

Precedents

To a certain extent, there's a precedent for what's in HB 2111.

In 2017, California enacted a law that precludes state and local law enforcement from using their resources to enforce federal immigration laws. The measure, often referred to as a "sanctuary law,'' was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals; the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review that ruling.

Closer to home, former Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack challenged a 1993 law that was supposed to put into place instant background checks on gun buyers. It specifically required each community's chief law enforcement officer to review gun purchase requests to determine if the buyer was legally entitled to have a weapon.

In 1997 the U.S. Supreme Court voided that part of the law, saying it amounted to illegal commandeering of local officials to perform federal functions.


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