State representatives voted Thursday to let people carry their guns through university and community college campuses, likely paving the way for a lawsuit to define exactly where that can and cannot occur.
SB 1467 would prohibit school officials from enacting any rule or regulation that keeps individuals from carrying a weapon in a “public right of way.’’ But nowhere in the legislation is that defined.
Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said that is likely to lead to a situation where a dispute erupts between someone carrying a gun and campus police who say that person is violating campus rules. And that dispute, he said, likely will have to be resolved by a judge.
The 33-24 vote on measure, which already has been approved by the Senate, sends it to Gov. Jan Brewer. Brewer has signed every measure easing gun restrictions that has been sent to her since taking office more than two years ago.
The legislation is a stripped-down version of the original proposal to allow guns anywhere on university. But Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who championed that concept, conceded he could not get the necessary votes.
Instead, Gould said he settled for what he could get.
Farnsworth said the legislation makes sense, especially given the urban nature of university campuses. He said there are public streets that run through and adjacent to campuses. And anyone who now drives on those streets with a weapon in the car is technically violating the law.
But Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said it’s not as simple as that. He said the legislation would undermine the ability of campus police to head off a problem before it occurs.
“If they see a certain person walking down the road with a high-powered rifle that is going into a place full of mass-capacity people, I am sure they would at least have the right to go and ascertain what that person is doing there ... instead of waiting until they finally break the law when they cross over into an office building,’’ he said.
Farnsworth, however, said he isn’t sure how the change will make campuses any less safe. He said anyone who is bent on killing someone now is not going to be deterred by existing laws and misdemeanor penalties that now make guns on campuses illegal.
“We have seen around the country that, in fact, having a prohibition on carrying (guns) in rights of way hasn’t stopped that kind of carnage, period,’’ he said.
But several other Republican legislators who said they support the right to bear arms said this measure goes too far.
Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, who moved to Arizona from Maryland 18 years ago, said she takes a certain pride in this state having the most liberal gun laws in this country.
“But I believe this bill seriously crosses that line,’’ said Carter, who is an associate professor at Arizona State University. “Somehow, some way, the idea of guns on campus is just so morally objectionable to me that I can absolutely not vote yes on this bill.’’
Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, told colleagues how he plans to send his son to college.
“To put guns on educational institutions makes absolutely no sense to me,’’ he said. “It’s going to be the first time, when something happens, how horrified we’re going to be in the choice and decision that we’ve possibly made.’’
But Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said he doesn’t see the distinction between campuses and the rest of the world.
“I find it hard to be that on universities it just becomes a bubble, and that you’re drastically protected when you’re on campus,’’ he said. “I think we have a right to defend ourselves.’’
That still leaves the question of where weapons will and will not be allowed.
Gallego said the legislation could be interpreted to allow guns not only on the streets and adjacent sidewalks that go through the campuses but even on the sidewalks between buildings. And Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, called the legislation “a bit ambiguous,’’ saying it needs “greater clarity.’’
That provoked an annoyed response from Farnsworth.
“If you think it’s not clear, then this is the place you should have offered an amendment that we could have then considered so we could have clarified the language,’’ he told Chabin. “I, sir, don’t have a problem with the language.’’