- Associated Press - Saturday, March 15, 2014

PHOENIX (AP) - The Arizona House of Representatives spent several hours this week debating five pro-gun bills Republicans say protect Arizonans from ongoing attacks on 2nd Amendment rights but which Democrats say are unnecessary and a waste of time.

One bill would allow authorities to charge a person accused of taking someone’s gun with an aggravated assault charge. But doing so is already a felony offense.

“We’re supposed to be a conservative Legislature that doesn’t like to make laws just for the sake of making laws, but this is making a law just for the sake of making a law. If you stole somebody’s gun you’ve already broken the law,” said Rep. Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix.

Campbell, who spoke repeatedly against several of the gun bills, says Republicans are not far from “bringing firearms close to personhood in this state.”

But Republicans maintain that gun rights are under attack.

Speaking about a bill that would allow concealed carry permit holders to have guns in public buildings, Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, said the government already excessively intrudes on gun rights.

“We have a right to bear arms, and that restriction in prohibiting that right, or restricting that right, is against government. And yet when we look at who has restricted our Second Amendment rights, it is government,” Farnsworth said.

All of the following bills were approved by the House of Representatives and will be heard by a Senate committee on Monday:

-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.

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

-House Bill 2339 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.

-House Bill 2535 by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would require law enforcement officers responsible for processing the certification of weapons such as machine guns and devices such as silencers belonging to private citizens to either certify or deny a weapon within 60 days. Weapons of that caliber currently require approval by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but a local law enforcement agency must also first conduct a background check before an applicant can request ATF approval. Kavanagh says some agencies take too long or don’t process the application at all. His original bill called for a 15-day deadline to process applications at the local level, but an amendment extended that. Democrats say there’s no reason to rush the approval process of such powerful weapons.

-House Bill 2338 would make the taking of someone else’s gun an offense of aggravated assault. Asked to cite why the law was needed, bill sponsor Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson said it was a preventative measure.

“It’s not that there’s a specific event that has occurred, but this is somewhat of a preventative situation,” Barton said. “When we think of home invasions, when you’re trying to protect your home and in the even that perpetrator tries to take your weapon, it gives the police something else to use when they go through the judicial proceedings.” Democrats said the bill was not necessary because it’s already a felony offense to take someone’s gun.

-House Bill 2336 would prohibit a state certified law enforcement officer from carrying a gun while consuming alcohol at any licensed liquor establishment. Currently, police can drink at bars that are not operated by a city, town or state government. This bill passed unanimously.

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