The most high-profile bill pushed through the state Legislature this year by Rep. Brenda Barton (R-Payson) prevents police from destroying weapons they seized from criminals and became the focal point of a major debate on gun control in the Legislature this year.
Barton’s bill, HB 2455, would require police agencies to sell unclaimed or forfeited guns and prevent the return of a gun to the person who found it. The bill covers lost, recovered, surrendered or abandoned property turned over to a public agency that’s not classified as evidence in a criminal case and whose owner is unknown.
The bill exempts the forced sale by police of any weapons illegal under federal law, like certain types of fully automatic weapons — however the police agency can turn that gun over to a gun dealer with the right federal certification.
The bill had the effect of gutting various gun buy-back plans, in which police or other agencies can pay people a nominal amount for guns they turn in to get them off the street.
Barton’s bill mostly slammed the door on efforts by some police departments to avoid having to sell guns turned over to police willingly, since a 2010 bill already requires police to sell rather than destroy any guns they seize in a criminal investigation.
While many states debated new restrictions on guns as a result of a string of mass shootings, Arizona mostly voted to loosen its already wide-open gun laws.
However, Democrats in the House did take advantage of the debate over Barton’s bill to propose a whole series of amendments that would have done things like strengthening background checks, restricting the sale of automatic weapons and banned armor-piercing bullets and high capacity magazines for assault weapons.
All earlier efforts by Democrats to introduce any restrictions on guns were killed in committee without making it to the floor of either the House or Senate.
Meanwhile, the Legislature did approve a measure that would prevent rural schools a certain distance from a police station from restricting the right of teachers to bring guns onto campus. The measure shouldn’t affect Payson schools, but could affect Pine or Tonto Basin.
The Legislature has also not yet acted on Gov. Jan Brewer’s plan to restore about half of the funding cut in recent years to help schools pay for police officers on campus serving as school resource officers. Those officers would teach classes, help investigate crimes on campus and serve as the first line of defense if an armed intruder comes onto campus.
Rep. Barton argued that HB 2455 would save the taxpayers money, since police agencies and towns would keep the money from selling the guns rather than have to pay for their destruction.
Rep. Barton stated “The value of this bill lies in the ability to augment the budgets of political subdivisions with the sale of a high value asset. This will help Arizona counties, cities and towns to make the best use of this much-needed additional source of revenue.”
Many Democrats heaped criticism on the proposal.
Senator Steve Gallardo said “This bill is classic overreach by Republican legislators. It takes away local control by prohibiting local law enforcement from destroying guns in their possession, even if a gun was willingly turned in by the owner. This is on top of a law passed last year forcing guns used in violent crimes to be put back on the streets,” said Sen. Gallardo.
Sen. Steve Farley said, “Imagine this scenario: If a teenager commits suicide with a gun, under this bill their grieving family would have to choose between taking that gun back home or giving it up with the knowledge that it would soon be in a display case of a local gun store,” said Sen. Farley. “This bill takes away that family’s right to destroy their own property as a means of finding closure.”
Senator David Bradley comments, “Republicans are tone deaf to all but the NRA on this issue and completely out of touch with the people of Arizona. A poll released just yesterday shows that 70 percent of Arizonans support universal background checks. The sad truth is this: right now it’s safer to be a gun in Arizona than a child.”