By Nicholas Condorcet
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
Gun policies vary greatly from country to country and state to state. The U.S. is generally considered to have comparatively few limits on gun ownership versus countries like the U.K. Arizona is considered a gun owner friendly state because of the lenient concealed weapons law, no requirement for background checks for private or gun-show transactions and no limits on many types of semi-automatic weapons. Due to loose gun control policies some argue that Arizona has one of the higher death rates related to guns.
Tougher gun laws do not necessary mean fewer homicides. In 1994 Congress passed a Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which included 19 types of semi-automatic military style weapons and high capacity gun magazines, to reduce gun violence. This ban was lifted in 2004 yet homicides have dropped nationally since then. High profile shootings, such as the Sandy Hook school shooting, have brought renewed calls for tougher gun laws and Arizona faces new gun legislation at both the federal and state level in 2013.
Many interested in gun policy have been closely following the Arms Trade Treaty which is scheduled for discussion at the United Nations conference in March in New York City. This U.N. multilateral treaty seeks to create an international standard which would regulate trade of tanks, ships, jets and guns. Some gun advocates have stated this treaty will take away the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms in the U.S. Constitution and would mean seizing civilian guns worldwide. The treaty seems to be limited in scope to importing and exporting weapons which would potentially block access for Americans to purchase many popular gun models. If the United Nations reaches such an agreement the United States would need a senate vote to authorize the treaty.
At the Federal level a renewed assault weapons ban may affect many gun owners. Introduced by Dianne Feinstein the bill states “It shall be unlawful for a person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a semiautomatic assault weapon.” The bill names over 150 weapons as covered items and strengthens the 1994 ban in several areas such as prohibiting many after-market modifications and work-arounds. Unlike the 1994 ban there is not a ten-year expiration of the law and it seeks to set standards for safe gun storage. If the bill does pass gun owners would be allowed to keep weapons purchased before the ban goes into effect, but would still be required to pass a background check for sale or transfer of guns purchased prior to the ban. President Obama has made several calls for increased gun legislation in the last few months. Recently in Obama’s State of the Union address he seems to be backing the renewed ban.
“Any federal law, rule, regulation or order that is effective on or after January 1, 2013 is unenforceable within the borders of this state if the law, rule, regulation or order attempts to do any of the following:
1. Ban or restrict ownership of a semiautomatic firearm or any magazine of a firearm.
2. Require any firearm, magazine or other firearm accessory to be registered in any manner.”
SCR 1015, a resolution to support the 2nd amendment, was passed in the Arizona Senate on February 18th with 18 votes in support and 12 “no” votes. The bill argues new gun regulation is unnecessary “Whereas, studies by the National Academies of Science and the Centers for Disease Control have found no persuasive evidence that gun control laws actually reduce crime; and Whereas, Americans today are safer from violent crime than they have been at any time since the mid-1960s.”
Other Arizona legislators have introduced bills more in-line with the assault weapons ban. SB 1309 seeks to deal with what is often considered a loophole in background checks by limiting manners of sale. “A person shall not sell or transfer a firearm unless the person is a licensed firearms dealer, the purchaser or transferee is a licensed firearms dealer or a licensed firearms dealer facilitates the transfer pursuant to subsection B of this section.” House Bill 2381 has similar language but only applies to sale or transfer of what the bill defines as assault weapons. Another set of bills, SB 1229 & SB 1050, would place limits on large capacity gun magazines.
House and Senate bills, HB 2380 and SB 1476 have been introduced to reinstate requiring permits for those carrying a concealed weapon and firearms training in Arizona. SB 1476 contains language which has led to questions of whether the bill would make pocket knives a concealed weapon or remove age requirements for receiving a concealed carry permit. The bill also states “Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, a person with a concealed weapons permit from another state may not carry a concealed weapon in this state if the person is under twenty-one years of age”. State law on firearm possession would still prohibit most youth under 18 from carrying a concealed gun if Arizona passes the bill.
Another issue is whether to destroy firearms in government possession or sell them to bring in extra dollars. HB 2455 seems aimed at cities like Tucson which has a gun buyback program to get guns off the streets. If passed cities must sell the guns rather than destroy them. Representative Kwasman, a sponsor of the bill, says “people do have a right to destroy a gun if they like, but cities should not be destroying guns instead of trying to make some money from them.” SB 1228 appears to protect local buyback programs “that shall sell the article to the public according to federal,
and state and local law, unless the article is otherwise prohibited from being sold under federal, and state and local law, in which case it shall be destroyed or otherwise properly disposed.”
There are two bills being introduced which seek to address the issue of allowing employees to have guns at school. SB 1325 which allows “the governing board of an educational institution may authorize a teacher or an administrator to possess a concealed firearm on the property of an educational institution” under certain conditions. HB 2656 adds language “shall provide training to a school district or charter school employee who has been approved and designated by the school district governing board or the governing body of the charter school to store a firearm on the school campus for the purpose of defending that school campus.”
Over 20 bills have been introduced in the first month of the Arizona legislature indicating a high level of concern over gun legislation.
Both those seeking tighter gun controls and those seeking the protection of current rights have to face change on all levels of government policy. The United Nations, US Congress, the AZ State Legislature and some local cities feel pressured to act after numerous highly publicized occurrences of gun violence – including the Tucson shooting that wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords which involved a gunman using large capacity magazine weapons. Various Tea Party and Patriot groups have been holding rally’s at the State Capitol calling for an end to further gun restrictions. On the other side of the debate plans are going forward for a March rally by Million Moms for Gun Control. What the outcome of these legislative bills will be and their effect on the safety of each of us remains to be seen with both sides pressing for action.