- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Phoenix (AP) - Arizona’s stand-your-ground and constitutional-carry laws already make the state a favorite for gun owners. On Tuesday, a Republican-dominated Senate committee passed firearms legislation to further broaden state residents’ Second Amendment rights.

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed a bill expanding gun owners’ rights to carry concealed weapons in public places and another creating an interstate compact to regulate the transfer of firearms. Both proposals passed on a 5-3 vote and now move to the Senate.

House Bill 2320 by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, would allow holders of concealed-carry permit to take their weapons into public buildings such as libraries. The bill says that if public institutions do not want to allow conceal-carry holders to come in with their guns, they must establish security guards and metal detectors at their facilities. The bill exempts some buildings, including those with liquor licenses, hospitals and schools.

“The whole point of putting this legislation forward is to honor the people who have a CCW permit,” Barton said. “It’s important that we honor that, and allow them to carry their desired weapon, concealed for self-defense.”

Advocates from the Salt River Project, the Arizona State Retirement System and the state Supreme Court lobbied for exceptions for their public buildings. But Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, who chairs the committee, refused to offer amendments in committee.

Instead, Sen. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who supports the bill, said Republicans will offer floor amendment to prohibit concealed carriers from bringing weapons into public buildings where it is forbidden by federal law.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said cities and counties shouldn’t have to pay for security so that concealed carriers can keep their guns in public buildings. “This bill puts a literal gun to the heads of public bodies and says if you really want to keep your public buildings free from weapons you’re going to have to pay for it,” Farley said.

Maricopa County found that if it prohibited firearms from all 378 county buildings that don’t have security, it would cost $47 million in ongoing costs and $9 million in setup costs, according to legislative analysts.

Brewer vetoed similar legislation three times in four years. In 2014, Brewer cited concerns about the fiscal impact on state and local governments. She called the bill “an unnecessary diversion of limited resources.”

More than 230,000 Arizona residents have concealed-carry permits, according to a Department of Public Safety report from March.

While Barton’s bill broadens the state’s Second Amendment protections, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, sponsored legislation to limit who can change gun laws. Thorpe’s proposal creates a state compact that would prevent member states from creating firearms-transfer laws that are more restrictive than federal law.

If passed, Arizona would be the first state to enact the compact, but it wouldn’t go into effect until at least one other state joins.

House Bill 2431 repeals any laws or regulations in conflict with the compact in member states and nullifies any current or future law or voter initiative that would be in conflict with the compact.

Thorpe said the bill would not prevent future legislation. “It’s a gentleman’s agreement if you will, a handshake between states,” he said.

However, Dave Kopp, lobbyist for Arizona Citizens Defense League, said there are only two ways states can remove themselves from the compact: Legislatures can vote on it once every five years, or a meeting of governors can decide to exit the compact.

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said the bill takes away the rights of voters and the Legislature to govern itself. “The so-called firearms compact is an attack on the citizen’s right to initiative in our state constitution,” he said.

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