State lawmakers are going to give Gov. Jan Brewer another chance to legalize guns in public buildings.
On a 19-11 vote, the Senate on Thursday gave final approval to legislation to override existing laws which say that a sign at the entrance of a public building is enough to make it illegal for visitors to enter when armed.
HB 2729 would still allow government agencies to keep their buildings off-limits to guns. But they could do that only by installing metal detectors at all entrances and having armed guards.
The vote sends the bill to the governor.
She vetoed a similar measure last year.
But Brewer, who has pronounced herself a strong proponent of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, said it was not because she was against the concept. Instead, the governor said the wording was flawed and could cause potential confusion about exactly where individuals could and could not bring their weapons.
Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, who is the sponsor of the new version, said the wording has been altered to address Brewer’s concerns.
At the heart of the issue are arguments that current laws about posting buildings as gun-free zones are meaningless because the only people who obey the signs are those who comply with the laws. That, said Gowan, leaves them defenseless against those who ignored the signs.
That theme was echoed by Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson.
He said society is divided into three groups: unarmed sheep, armed sheep dogs — and the wolves who are the bad guys.
“It takes sheep dogs to protect the sheep from the wolves,” Melvin said. He said that is why Arizona needs more people who have permits to carry concealed weapons.
“With this type of legislation, we have a safer society,” he said.
The problem, said Sen. Olivia Cajero-Bedford, is the cost. She said governments which do not want armed visitors roaming the halls will have to spend millions buying the equipment and additional millions staffing the entrances.
Maricopa County alone estimated having to spend $11.3 million in equipment and $19.5 million in ongoing costs.
All that left Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, unimpressed.
“As far as I’m concerned, there is no cost too high to protect my constitutional rights,” he said, reciting part of the Second Amendment right to bear arms.
And Sen. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, pointed out that the Arizona Constitution has even broader language, saying that the right of a citizen “to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired.” He suggested that any restrictions — including the ones that HB 2729 seeks to overturn — are probably illegal anyway.
“If you want to change the constitution to provide for more draconian regulation on gun ownership and carrying of guns, open or concealed, my opinion is you have to change ... the constitution,” Biggs said. “We haven’t done that.”
But Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said this measure has nothing to do with constitutional rights.
“This type of legislation would open up the doors for having our public facilities in a dangerous area,” he said. “We’re now allowing firearms in public facilities that should not have them, public swimming pools, public libraries.”
Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, said she’s not worried about people carrying guns.
“The gun is not the problem,” she said. “I would ask, does a spoon make a person fat? Is the pen responsible for the words that are written?”
Allen said restrictions on guns are based on an assumption that those who are armed “are just going to randomly take it out and start shooting and carrying on because that gun somehow has the power just to change them and make them do something really terrible and bad.”