The state House has passed a measure that would make it more difficult to keep guns out of public buildings — and impose potentially steep costs on towns if they try.
Rep. Brenda Barton’s (R-Payson) bill would require towns and counties — but not schools and colleges — to allow anyone with a concealed weapons permit to bring a gun into any public building unless the town puts up signs, metal detectors and gun lockers.
Towns can bar people without permits from bringing a gun into a public building by posting the no-gun rule and providing a convenient storage locker. That provision remains unchanged.
Rep. Barton said the law will make public buildings safer. “Street gangs and gang members and criminals have always carried their guns into city hall and the public library. They simply ignore the signs. There are no costs any different than what it is now unless the city council decides to incur a cost.”
She said people with concealed carry permits “have already been subjected to a background check nearly as extensive as law enforcement.”
As it turns out, Payson just went through a scare when a man who’d frequently and bitterly criticized the town council checked with police to find out what security measures were in place at town hall. The man then went to a local gun store to buy two guns. However, he used an out-of-date address on his application.
Because he bought multiple guns, the gun store owner reported the transaction to local police and to the federal government.
Because of his previous interactions with Payson police, the department had flagged him — and reacted quickly to the report from the gun store.
Federal ATV officers arrested the man with police assistance, based on the false address on the form to buy the gun — which actually matched the address on his driver’s license.
The punchline? The man had a concealed carry permit.
Since the town didn’t have a gun locker near the entrance, the man could have brought his gun into the council chambers under both existing law and the new law. If he had a concealed carry permit, the town would need both a metal detector and nearby gun lockers to keep him from bringing the gun to a council meeting — if he had a valid concealed carry permit.
Rep. Barton said the recent case doesn’t really apply to the changes she wants in the law, since the town didn’t have gun lockers — or a metal detector.
“If the man hadn’t asked about security measures in the first place, he simply could have purchased a handgun and entered city hall at will anytime he wanted to no matter what the paper signs said. You would never have known.
“The Payson case isn’t really germane to this change in law because the guy could have walked in and not said a word; neither lockers or a sign would have stopped him.”
Payson has also faced issues with Mike Voden, who also brought his gun into town hall. Voden is currently awaiting trial on murder charges after shooting his next-door neighbor who reportedly came into his yard to retrieve his dog. The police department at one point told Voden he had to leave his gun at the police station when visiting the council chambers. On one occasion, Voden simulated having a gun during a council meeting. A Payson police detective testified in a court case that he nearly pulled his own gun and shot Voden, before realizing Voden didn’t actually have a gun.
Rep. Barton commented, “Didn’t Mike Voden ignore the existing piece of paper at the door? What’s contained in my legislation would have changed that fact? Nothing.”
Ultimately, barring guns from public buildings could prove costly. Critics of the bill say it would cost at least $136,000.
Supporters of the bill contest that estimate.
A companion measure that also passed the House on a 34-22 vote allows any person or organization affected by a local gun rule to ask a judge to overturn the rule. If they’re successful, they can collect up to $100,000 in legal fees.
A third measure would impose a $5,000 civil penalty on any community or public official who enforced a gun regulation that goes beyond what the Legislature has approved. Such public officials could not use public money to defend themselves if they acted knowingly.
Those provisions appear aimed at Tucson, which enacted gun control measures in the wake of several high-profile shootings, including a mass shooting during an attempt to assassinate a congresswoman.
Tucson rules would require people who lose their gun to report the loss to police. They would also allow police to compel a gun owner to take a breathalyzer test to see if they’re intoxicated if an officer suspects they might be drunk after having negligently discharged a firearm.
The new state laws would overturn Tucson’s regulations if adopted by the Senate and signed by the governor.
Barton agreed to some changes in the law. For instance, people with concealed carry permits can’t take their weapons into schools, community college or university campuses. They would also not have the right to take their guns to public events that have a liquor license, like large sports arenas.
She also said the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has already concluded that Tucson’s regulations concerning guns violate the state constitution. “A legal opinion of the AG is the closest thing to a court finding and should Tucson push the issue the AG’s legal opinion would be how the court would rule.”