- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona Supreme Court justices on Tuesday sharply questioned an attorney for the city of Tucson over his contention that a state law requiring it to sell guns seized by its police department doesn’t apply there.

Chief Justice Scott Bales and Justices Clint Bolick, Ann Scott Timmer and Andrew Gould all seemed concerned with the city’s argument that how it disposes of weapons is solely a matter of local concern.

“How is this a purely municipal affair?” Bales asked attorney Richard Rollman. “It seems very different from how the city chooses its council, for example, or maybe how the city disposes of its real property that’s just within its city limits.”

Tuesday’s court hearing is the first test of a 2016 law that allows a single lawmaker to trigger an investigation by the attorney general into whether a city or county has a law on its books conflicting with state law. Senate Bill 1487 requires the withholding of state shared revenue from cities that refuse to rescind those ordinances. Nearly $1.1 billion in income and sales taxes was distributed to 91 cities and towns in the budget year that ended June 30, 2015. Tucson said it gets about $170 million a year.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich determined in November that Tucson’s gun destruction policy may violate a 2013 state law requiring the weapons be sold. He’s asking the high court to make the final determination.

Rollman, the Tucson lawyer, said the state Constitution gives cities that have adopted “charters” greater authority to decide matters of local concern. Tucson is challenging Brnovich’s funding and asking the high court to invalidate the entire 2016 law. The high court will issue a written ruling later.

Rollman said the drafters of the state Constitution meant for cities to oversee their areas and did not intend for anything that might affect something outside the city to be outside local control.

“That is really at the heart of the charter issues,” Rollman said. “When the drafters of the Constitution created the charter city authority, did they mean to have it so confined that the city would only be able to regulate those matters that could not conceivably effect anyone outside the city?”

That comment apparently troubled Bolick. “Where do you find that in the language in the Constitution?

Deputy Attorney General Paul Watkins urged the court to find that regulating firearms is not at all local, especially because it involves the police.

“When police powers are involved, the issue is a matter of statewide concern, as the court has said in numerous cases,” Watkins said. “This is an inherent aspect of state sovereignty, and it’s particularly clear in this ordinance.”

The high court has not yet decided if it will actually accept the case. It will consider whether it can do that; if the law is constitutional; what remedy it should allow if it finds in favor of the state; and whether withholding state revenue is allowable.

The Tucson City Council put the gun-destruction ordinance on hold in December, with Councilwoman Regina Romero calling the state funding law “an assault on charter cities in Arizona” that requires a legal challenge.

Rep. Mark Finchem, R-Oro Valley, filed a complaint in October against the practice of destroying guns, saying charter city status doesn’t give Tucson a free pass.

City records show that the Tucson Police Department has destroyed 4,820 guns since the beginning of 2013.

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