Arizona bill allowing deadly force for property damage fails

The Arizona Senate on March 14 rejected a bill sponsored by a Republican lawmaker that would have expanded the state’s laws allowing the use of deadly force to include stopping someone from damaging property.

GOP Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita’s legislation failed after several Republicans joined with Democrats to reject the major expansion of the state’s laws that currently allow lethal force only to stop very serious crimes.

The Scottsdale lawmaker said her intent was to give business owners or their employees the right to defend their property against smash-and-grab robbers if the robber possessed a dangerous weapon. But critics of Ugenti-Rita’s bill said the legislation was so broadly written that it would allow someone to be shot and killed just for scrawling graffiti on a wall while having something that might be deemed a weapon.

Republican Sen. Sonny Borrelli of Lake Havasu City said the bill just went too far.

"I can understand you use force to save your life, of your friend, family or another person. Any kind of reasonable force I stand for, I will stand with," Borrelli said. "But to ... somebody damaging property? You can replace property, you can’t replace life. I think this bill is a little on the extreme side."

If the bill had passed, Arizona would have joined only Texas in allowing the use of deadly force when the person damaging property did not directly threaten someone, according to research by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Arizona already allows the use of deadly force to stop many crimes, including residential burglary, rape, kidnapping, arson and manslaughter. But Ugenti-Rita’s proposal allows the use of force to prevent any criminal property damage, including amounts so small that they would only lead to a four-month jail sentence.

In a recent interview, Ugenti-Rita said the origins of the law included the May 2020 riot at the Scottsdale Fashion Square where hundreds of people looted stores following the death of George Floyd and a series of smash-and-grab robberies in California and across the nation where gangs of people descended on retail stories.

"You should be able to defend your business like you defend your home," she said.

A smash-and-grab robbery occurred March 6 in Roseville, California, when a gang of 10 men stormed a jewelry store and used sledgehammers to break display cases and grab merchandise. The men escaped.

The bill failed the Republican-controlled Senate on a 12-17 vote. Ugenti-Rita changed her vote to no to allow the possibility of another vote, but with Borrelli and two other Republicans opposed it seems unlikely it could pass.

The vote came amid a heated floor session where passions ran high after a series of GOP-backed election bills failed, some after Ugenti-Rita joined one other Republican senator in opposition. She said she knew she was at least two votes short of the 16 needed for passage and asked for the vote to be delayed. She was upset it was put up for a vote by GOP Senate President Karen Fann.

"That’s fine if you don’t want to listen to that and make some kind of point, but I vote my conscience," Ugenti-Rita said. "And that kind of bullying tactic doesn’t work with me."

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