State bill affecting local gun sales passes House

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PHOENIX – State lawmakers are making yet another bid to keep cities from requiring background checks when guns are sold from one person to another.

On a 32-23 margin the House on Monday gave final approval to legislation which would make it illegal for any state or local government to require the search of any federal or state database before personal property is sold, given away or otherwise transferred.

Nothing in SB 1122, which now goes to the governor, actually mentions firearms.

But during hearings, proponents cited legislation in other states to require background checks for the person-to-person sale of guns as a reason to make a preemptive strike to cover not just weapons but anything else local governments might want to regulate. Some of these restrictions were enacted at the ballot by voters.

It also comes as former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and husband Mark Kelly have expanded their national bid to mandate background checks into Arizona. Kelly, whose wife was injured in a 2011 attack that left six dead and more than a dozen injured, said if lawmakers here cannot be convinced to adopt what he said is a widely supported law, his national group, Americans for Responsible Solutions, would spend money to elect those who will back such measures.

For the moment, Arizona has no such requirement. And nothing in SB 1122 would keep voters from proposing and approving their own initiative to require background checks as was done in other states.

Opponents of the bill, including The Arizona chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and a member of the Everytown Survivor Network, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety, criticized the House for passing SB 1122, saying it was dangerous legislation that would threaten public safety.

A statement from Everytown listed SB 1122 as seeking to prevent state and local officials from requiring background checks for all gun sales, saying they are the single-most effective measure to keep guns out of the hands of felons and domestic abusers.

“I’m extremely disappointed in (Monday’s) vote,” said Emily Nottingham, a member of the Everytown survivor network whose son, Gabe Zimmerman, was shot and killed in the 2011 “Congress on your Corner” mass shooting. “SB 1122 is unnecessary legislation that would make it more difficult to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals and domestic abusers. This gun lobby-backed bill threatens the ability to make our communities safer. As an Arizonan and a gun violence survivor, I urge Governor Ducey to veto SB 1122.”

Chris Wagner, owner of The Gun Shop on Stockton Hill Road, clarified that the bill refers only to personal weapon exchanges, not all gun sales.

“It basically says that Arizona will not support legislatively any laws that prohibit private gun sales, gifts or exchanges,” Wagner said. “This includes private sales at gun shows and swap meets. This law does not affect gun transfers, sales or exchanges of weapons through Federal Firearms Licensed dealers. By law, they must do background checks on all purchases or exchanges of weapons.”

But Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said he believes the legislation sponsored by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, could still have an immediate effect. He said it might be used to try to overturn a 2001 Tucson ordinance.

That ordinance spells out that any weapon transferred on city property first needs a background check. It was specifically aimed at the gun shows that used to occur regularly at the city’s convention center.

It was challenged in court by gun show promoters as illegal, citing other laws already in existence designed to limit the ability of cities to regulate the transfer of weapons. But a trial judge rejected the claim, ruling that Tucson, as a charter city, has wide latitude in deciding issues about the use of its property.

That lower court decision was upheld in a 2002 ruling by the state Court of Appeals, a decision the Arizona Supreme Court declined to review. As a result, gun shows have been moved to private venues, something that would not be necessary if Tucson’s ordinance is voided.

During Monday’s vote, Friese cited the ruling and urged colleagues to tread carefully before trying to impose their will on Tucson.

“This bill will likely result in another lawsuit,’’ he said. “With this piece of legislation we’ll yet find ourselves in another position where we have another lawsuit costing the state hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars and will lead us really nowhere.’’

Daily Miner reporter Aaron Ricca contributed to this report.