PHOENIX -- State lawmakers are moving to let more people carry guns into government buildings even as they want to block local law enforcement from enforcing federal gun laws.
And they are taking steps to keep Arizona safe from any new Biden-imposed restrictions on weapons.
On a party-line vote, members of the House Committee on Government and Elections approved legislation that says if someone has a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon they would be free to ignore "no guns'' signs posted on the door. The only way cities and counties could actually enforce a gun-free zone zone would be to install metal detectors and hire people to staff the equipment.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said that makes sense.
"Placing a sticker that says 'no weapons allowed' with a little red hash, that stops law-abiding citizens from bringing weapons into government buildings,'' he said.
"It doesn't stop criminals, potentially dangerous criminals,'' Kavanagh continued. "So what you do is you create gun-free zones where the honest people are disarmed and the criminals can go in and have an advantage.''
HB 2551 does not contain any funds for local governments to buy and staff the equipment. In fact, then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed similar measures at least three times, citing concerns about the legislation being an "unfunded mandate.''
But supporters of the measure said there is no such mandate. The simple answer, they said, is let gun owners bring their weapons into state buildings or provide protection if they have to leave their guns in their vehicles or check them at the door.
"That's really a decision on the part of the facility,'' said Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West. "And they would be economically ahead by abiding by the law, for the amount of citizens that do attend these facilities, to allow them and put the trust back into people.''
Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, had a simpler explanation of his support.
"No one's going to protect me better than I can protect myself,'' he said.
But Rep. Kelli Butler, D-Paradise Valley, said the legislation is built on a false narrative.
"This idea that there's a good guy with a gun that's going to be able to do something is totally not borne out by facts,'' she said.
Butler cited a shooting incident at a Walmart.
"So many people pulled out guns that law enforcement wasn't sure who the shooter was,'' she said.
"They didn't know who they should be following out of the building,'' Butler continued. "And it slowed down law enforcement ability to respond.''
The legislation does contain exceptions where possession of a weapon would remain a crime. That includes bars and restaurants with liquor licenses, courts, schools, community colleges, universities and public transit. And Kavanagh said the owners of private businesses retain the right to demand that patrons disarm themselves.
Rep. Athena Salman, D-Tempe, said that list falls short. For example, she said, it does not include the legislature.
Salman noted that there have been threats made against Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, following his vote earlier this week against a resolution condemning the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Yet there are no metal detectors at the entrance to the Senate building, meaning anyone could bring a gun into the building.
While Arizona law allows virtually any adult to carry a concealed weapon, HB 2551 applies only to those who have concealed-carry permits issued by the state.
The other measure, HB 2111, is designed to protect what Rep. Leo Biasiucci, R-Lake Havasu City, said is a threat of federal infringement on the gun rights of Arizonans.
Nothing in his legislation would preclude federal law enforcement from enforcing their own gun laws. But it seeks to bar state and local officials and law enforcement from using their personnel or financial resources "to enforce, administer or cooperate with any act, law, treaty, order, rule or regulation of the United States government that is inconsistent with any law of this state regarding the regulation of firearms.'' And Biasiucci made it clear that his aim is to thwart any move by the Biden administration to carry through with campaign promises of banning AR-15s and high-capacity magazines.
"If they try to take AR-15s from law-abiding citizens, that is something that is not going to be tolerated,'' he said.
Butler questioned how all of that comports with the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution which dictates that federal law is "the supreme law of the land.''
But Biasiucci said this isn't about voiding federal law but simply a decision to say the state won't cooperate in enforcing those laws. He said it's no different than the fact that Arizona legalized marijuana possession and won't be arresting and prosecuting people even though that remains a crime under federal law.
Salman balked at that comparison.
"I don't know anyone who has died from smoking pot,'' she said. "I don't think in a civilized society we should have military-grade weapons.''
Kavanagh, however, pointed out that the AR-15, while designed to look like an automatic weapon used by the military, is actually a semi-automatic rifle, no different than other legal rifles.
Both measures now require action by the full House.