Arizona could allow guns in libraries, on school grounds

The Arizona House on Thursday approved two Republican-backed bills that would loosen gun laws by allowing firearms in libraries and many other public buildings and by permitting loaded weapons to be carried in vehicles on school grounds.

Both measures passed on 31-28 party-line votes with no Democratic support and now go to the Senate for action.

Debates on two other proposals — one allowing guns on university campuses and another to let people between 18 and 20 years of age get provisional concealed weapons permits — were delayed.

Arizona already has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation, allowing anyone legally allowed to own a gun to carry a firearm without a permit, making permits exceptionally easy to obtain and allowing private sales without a background check.

The Republican-controlled Legislature regularly passes bills that Democrats contend weaken the few remaining gun restrictions. Supporters contend the changes are needed to allow citizens to exercise their rights to self-defense under the Second Amendment.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave the state an "F" grade in its yearly report on gun safety laws that was released Thursday.

The group backs stronger background checks and other gun safety laws and is led by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Tucson, who was severely wounded in a 2011 mass shooting that left six people dead and Giffords and 12 others wounded.

The bill by Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills to allow concealed permit holders to carry their guns into most public buildings is a longstanding goal of Kavanagh and other Republican lawmakers. It has repeatedly failed to pass the Legislature over several years.

It does not apply to courthouses, prisons and other secure buildings. But all others would have to let people with permits bring in their weapons.

The proposal to allow permit-holders to have loaded weapons on school grounds is sponsored by GOP Rep. Jacqueline Parker of Mesa.

It passed the House last year but died in the Senate. She argued that parents picking up children should not have to stop to unload their legally-carried weapons before they drive onto school campuses.

Bill faces opposition

Democrats called the bill a recipe for disaster.

"There’s a reason why our schools are drug-free and gun-free — and that’s to keep the students safe," Tucson Democratic Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley said. "Having loaded guns even in a glove compartment of a car is a dangerous situation for any K-12 school campus."

She and other Democrats noted that students who are bullied or considering suicide could be tempted to use weapons if they know they are in a nearby car. Until several years ago, even unloaded guns were not allowed in cars on a school campus.

"I’ve listened to plenty of parents who are — their life is forever in torment because the means that was available was a firearm," Tempe Democratic Rep. Mitzi Epstein said.

But Republicans said the purpose of the law is to increase safety by removing the need for people to unload their weapons just to go on campus, which runs the risk of an accidental discharge.

"I was a police officer for 20 years, and if you go into any police locker room that’s in a station that’s been up a while you will notice little holes in the lockers," Kavanagh said. "And those little holes are caused by accidental discharges when police officers are unloading their weapons at the end of a tour."

The House bill allowing concealed weapons to be carried on college and university campuses is another longstanding goal of Republicans that has failed to be enacted in past years. It could come up for debates and votes at any time, and a similar bill in the Senate also is awaiting floor action.

GOP Sen Wendy Rogers of Flagstaff is sponsoring a Senate version of the bill.

"I am a believer that guns save lives, and if a student has a concealed weapons permit than he or she should be able to carry on campus and thus make the campus safer," Rogers said at a Jan. 20 committee hearing.

Arizona State University Police Chief Michael Thompson testified at the same Senate hearing that allowing guns to be carried on campus is a huge risk.

"I’m here to tell you (from) firsthand experience that university students make very poor decisions on a daily basis, sometimes hourly basis," Thompson said. "Adding guns to an already high-risk environment of alcohol, drugs, overreaction, lack of life experience and immaturity is a very dangerous combination."

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