- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 12, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives who say the 2nd Amendment is under attack have approved two bills that aim to strengthen gun rights in the state.

House Bill 2517, sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, would impose fines on cities, towns and their lawmakers who enforce gun ordinances stricter than the state’s own laws.

The bill would impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 on city and town governments that violate the statute. It would also allow the state to sue individual government officials such as city councilors and would prohibit them from using public funds to defend themselves in court.

Republicans say the bill is a response to attacks on 2nd Amendment rights, and that cities and towns answer to the state.

“Municipalities have no business enacting gun laws. Period,” said Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa.

But Democrats say it is unfair to impose such strict laws upon cities, especially when lawmakers often complain that the federal government oversteps its boundaries in state matters.

“Quite frankly this obsession with firearms is starting to get a little out of hand, in my eyes, and I don’t know what we can do,” said Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix.

The House approved the bill with a 34-22 vote on Wednesday.

Also on Wednesday, legislators approved a Republican bill that would allow concealed-weapons permit holders to take guns into most public buildings and events.

The bill would allow guns in government buildings unless security measures - including armed guards, metal detectors and gun lockers - are in place. It would exclude public K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year.

Bill sponsor Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, said law-abiding citizens who have gone through a multistep process for a concealed-carry permit should be able to exercise the constitutional right to carry a gun.

Supporters of the bill say it protects the public in cases of a mass shooting. Opponents say the bill would impose costs on cities and towns and could actually put large crowds at danger.

Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, asked if there was a cost estimate for cities who have to buy lockers and hire armed security guards if they don’t want guns in their public buildings.

“I don’t understand the term cost-benefit analysis. These are 2nd Amendment rights, and I don’t know that we have cost benefit analysis on 2nd Amendment rights,” Barton said.

Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson, denounced the bill. “I think this is a very bad bill. I think that it will cause undo financial hardship on a lot of venues, particularly libraries and pre-schools,” she said.

The House approved the bill 34-22. Meanwhile, in the Senate, a similar bill failed on a final vote. Senate Bill 1063 would have exempted people who were lawfully in possession of a gun from misconduct with weapons charges if they entered a public building that banned guns but did not have firearms-storage lockers.

The proposal by Sen. Rick Murphy failed on a 14-14 vote, with one member of each party absent. But Murphy changed his vote to no when it became clear it could not pass, making it possible for the bill could be brought up for reconsideration later.

Both House bills will now go to the Senate for approval.

___ Associated Press reporter Bob Christie contributed to this report.

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