The state House voted Thursday to elevate the right of people to carry guns in their vehicles over the right of property owners to keep those weapons out of their parking lot.
On a voice vote, lawmakers gave preliminary approval to legislation which says individuals can have loaded weapons in their vehicles even if an employer, a private business, a day care center or an apartment complex don't want them there.
The only exceptions would be for the owners or renters of single-family detached homes or for businesses willing to fence their properties, search every vehicle coming in and providing a place for gun owners to check their weapons.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who is carrying HB 2474 for the National Rifle Association, acknowledged the measure could be construed as infringing on the rights of property owners.
But Kavanagh said that is trumped by the Second Amendment right of people to bear arms to protect themselves.
"The Bill of Rights, and in fact, many other laws, do not stop at the private property line," he said. Kavanagh said this wouldn't be the first time that private property rights have to fall to more important rights.
"The owner of a private business can't say, 'I don't like blacks,' therefore the Civil Rights Act doesn't apply in my business," he said.
But Rep. Kyrsten Sinema called Kavanagh's comparison "ludicrous."
"This bill certainly does not have the same kind of weight or importance to our country as does the historic landmark legislation that required private corporations to treat people equally regardless of the color of their skin," she said.
Existing law already allows businesses to declare their buildings to be gun-free zones. Kavanagh said that shouldn't extend to parking lots.
He said some people feel the need for protection while driving to and from work, church, shopping or other sites. Without this law, Kavanagh said, those people would be forced to leave their guns at home or park on the street.
Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, said he understands the right of self-protection.
"But I've always believed that your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins," he said. And Chabin said he sees nothing in the ability of property owners to ban guns from their property that interferes with the Second Amendment which limits the power of government.
Kavanagh called the legislation "a very minor infringement of your private property right." And he said if a landowner is so adamant about keeping guns out of a parking lot, the bill lets him or her do that by fencing the area and having a full-time guard search every vehicle coming in.
The legislation does not trump other federal and state laws which keep weapons off public school campuses. Sinema said that creates an interesting disparity, making the area for youngsters in kindergarten through high school gun-free zones but not the area around a private preschool.
Rep. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, called the measure "common-sense legislation."
"There are many instances where people would like to drive from their home to work and not have to worry about a drug dealer who's being chased by Border Patrol running into the street and sticking it in your window and asking you for your car," he said. "It's my right and decision to defend myself and my family and I don't think someone should deprive me of that just because I'm forced to park in their parking lot."
Thursday's floor debate capped some heated lobbying, complete with a shouting match late Wednesday between NRA lobbyist and board member Todd Rathner of Tucson and Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford.
Konopnicki, the owner of a fast-food franchise, had crafted an amendment Wednesday to provide some additional exemptions to the law.
For example, his proposal would have let utilities keep weapons out of parking lots of power generating plants. Similar exemptions would have been granted to certain defense contractors, natural gas facilities and water storage systems.
Rathner said he believes Konopnicki, who has been supported by the NRA in the past, blindsided the organization by crafting the amendment without talking to organization lobbyists. And Rathner admitted that he told Konopnicki that if he offers the amendment, the NRA would work to defeat him in his reelection campaign or anticipated bid for Congress.
"I did not raise my voice until he screamed in my face that we're threatening him," Rathner said.
Konopnicki has a different recollection.
"I actually thought he was going to swing," he said of Rathner, calling him "totally out of control."
"That's when I yelled at him,'' Konopnicki said.
In the end Konopnicki decided not to attend Thursday's debate and House Speaker Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, banned Rathner from the House gallery. Adams said he will decide Rathner's future attendance at House hearings after meeting with NRA representatives "to discuss proper decorum." Rathner said Thursday his behavior was unacceptable and he has since apologized to Konopnicki and Adams.
The legislation had originally been scheduled for a final roll-call vote on Thursday. But Adams used his power to pull it off the calendar in the wake of the dust-up.