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Two bills to loosen gun regulations advance in the Arizona Legislature
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Two bills to loosen gun regulations advance in the Arizona Legislature

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A bill that has passed the Arizona House and goes next to the full Senate would allow any adult to bring a loaded gun to a school campus as long as the gun is kept in a locked vehicle.

PHOENIX — A Senate panel gave the go-ahead for more people to bring weapons, including loaded guns, into more places.

One measure approved by the Judiciary Committee would allow the more than 390,000 Arizonans with permits to carry a concealed weapon to bring those weapons into most public buildings, regardless of what the sign on the door says.

The 5-2 vote on House Bill 2551 came over the objections of city and county officials who questioned the wisdom of having more armed people in government offices and buildings.

They pointed out that the only way governments could keep out people with guns would be to install and staff metal detectors.

By an identical party-line margin, the Republican-led committee voted to allow any adult to bring a loaded weapon onto a school campus as long as it is left in a locked vehicle.

Current law permits weapons in vehicles, but only if unloaded. House Bill 2840 would remove that requirement.

Both measures, already approved by the House on party-line votes, now go to the full Senate.

Public buildings

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the sponsor of the measure about guns in public buildings, said opponents are overly worried.

He pointed out that existing law already allows current and retired police officers to ignore the “no weapons” signs on public buildings. His bill would expand that to “a new small group,” he said.

Kavanagh noted that these are people who have taken the required course to get a permit, gone through a background check and been fingerprinted.

None of that impressed Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson.

First, she said, the number of people with CCW permits is hardly a small group. And she scoffed at the claim people have been properly trained. “You can take an online course for two hours, pay $89,” Engel said. There’s no requirement to show the ability to handle the weapon, and the state no longer certifies instructors.

“I guess there’s some kind of fingerprinting along the way but it’s not clear exactly when it happens,” Engel continued. “And, bam, you’ve got a CCW permit.”

Kavanagh said the current law — the one that makes public buildings posted with signs off limits to those with weapons — is pretty much a joke.

“The sign on the door is very effective at keeping law-abiding citizens with weapons out,” he said.

“It is not that efficient at keeping lawbreakers out,” Kavanagh said. “Lawbreakers don’t obey the law.”

The only way to ensure that everyone in a building is disarmed is to have metal detectors, he said.

That point did not escape Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, who said she has a CCW permit.

“I want a chance to defend myself,” she said.

But Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said that is based on a false premise.

“We kind of promote this idea and we put that in people’s heads that if you have a gun you can be a hero,” he said.

“This idea that a random gun owner is going to have the skill, the ability to control their motor control, their adrenaline surge and the emotions in the highest of stress situations and hit their target without hurting themselves or hurting others is kind of ridiculous,” Quezada said. “The reality is that most people, in general, can’t drive to work without spilling coffee.”

Kavanagh said nothing in his proposal would force the owners of private property to allow people to bring their guns. But a gun owner who testified before the committee, Don Johnsen, said that’s not exactly true.

Johnsen pointed out that the measure would allow CCW permit holders to bring their weapons into any “public event.” He said that is defined in state law to include even private events for which someone got a government permit, like a street fair or festival.

School grounds

House Bill 2840, the legislation on guns on school grounds, has a different origin and different goal.

Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said the current law makes criminals out of parents who drive onto school property to pick up a child if they happen to have a loaded gun in the vehicle.

“It doesn’t involve carrying a gun onto campus or anywhere else,” she said. “If the gun ever leaves the car, then the bill changes no longer apply.”

But the measure as worded doesn’t just cover someone making a quick trip through a parking lot. It also would allow a loaded gun to be in the vehicle all day, where critics said it might be seen, including by students who go to school there, and stolen.

That alarmed Engel, who said lawmakers need to see through the eyes of a mother who has gotten a call from her child who is locked down in school.

“I have actually received that call more than once from my daughter, hiding under a desk because there’s somebody with a gun in the parking lot,” she told colleagues.

“And when you drive to the school, you can’t even get near it, you can’t even help your child,” Engel continued. “It is a small inconvenience for gun owners to park on the side of a road and unload their gun.”

Rogers said she doesn’t see it that way.

“As a parent and a grandparent who has lived in Arizona for 23 years, we cannot be sheep, we cannot be victims,” she said. “And we need to be able to defend ourselves.”

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