Guns and the Debate in Arizona

The Second Amendment to the US constitution enforces citizens’ right to bear arms. It says:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Since 1791 and to date, the intended scope of this language has created considerable debate among legislative pundits. Perhaps, Arizona’s founding fathers knew the country would remain divided on gun control and made it clear to everyone from the onset.

Unlike the Second Amendment, the language in the state’s constitution was unequivocal.

Article II, Section 26 of Arizona’s constitution says, “the right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the state shall not be impaired.”

This special protection for individual gun rights in the state goes beyond the language of even the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. Then, the state reiterated its stance in 1994 when Arizona’s House passed its original gun law, which allowed gun owners with permits to carry concealed firearms.

Following the 1990s and the early 2000s, Arizona’s legislature remained aggressive and continued to expand gun rights in the state.

In 2009, the State Legislature passed a law that allows Arizona residents to carry concealed weapons into bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Barely a year later, in 2010, Governor Jan Brewer signed the “Firearm Freedom Act” that permits anyone to sell certain weapons and ammunition manufactured in Arizona without following federal registration or regulations. 

Then in April 2010, Brewer signed another bill that expanded the residents’ right of constitutional carry per the original gun law of 1994. The law allows Arizonans older than 21 to carry concealed firearms without a permit. Residents can also take their guns anywhere, apart from doctors’ offices and certain places, such as polling places, correctional facilities, power stations, and any property where the owner expressly prohibits weapons. 

A gun owner may have their concealed weapons in bars as long as they are not drinking. The individual may also carry guns on school grounds. However, the firearm must be unloaded, and the owner must remain in a vehicle.

These laws make Arizona one of the states with the least lenient gun laws in the United States, according to the Giffords Law Center, an independent organization fighting for justice for victims of gun violence and legislative reform at the state and federal level.

Arizona also scored poorly according to Giffords’ metrics. The state ranks low in gun law strength and high in gun violence and gun deaths. Yet, state legislators continue to pass laws that enforce the Arizona residents’ ability to own and carry guns despite federal legislative and executive efforts to regulate firearms in the country.  

Arizona Stalls Federal Gun Laws for Nearly Thirty Years

Arizona has always been at loggerheads with federal laws to control access to firearms and gun ownership in American states.

Case in point: Mack v. United States (also known as Printz v. United States)

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed the Brady Bill, i.e., Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, into law. The law mandated state and local law-enforcement officials to conduct federal background checks on purchasers. It also imposed a five-day waiting period before licensed dealers, manufacturers, and importers could release arms to purchasers.

The provisions of this federal Act were hard to swallow in Arizona. And as sure as day, the state resisted.

In 1994, former Graham County Sheriff, Richard Mack, challenged the Bill administration on the constitutionality of the provisions of Brady Handgun Law. He sued the federal government in the landmark case, Mack v. United States. 

The District Court agreed with Mack that the background check requirement and waiting period constitute a federal violation of states’ rights under the 10th Amendment. The federal government appealed to the US Supreme Court, which also sided with Mack, and the sheriff became a cult hero to gun-rights enthusiasts. He would later write the book – “From My Cold Dead Fingers: Why America Needs Guns.”

It has been nearly thirty years, but the story remains unchanged. 

Arizona introduced five gun bills to strengthen its gun laws further – or worsen it, depending on how you look at it. 

One bill, the Second Amendment Firearm Freedom Act, stands out.

The bill, which Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed into law in February 2021, preempts the efforts of the Biden-Harris administration to stem gun violence in the country. The legislation prohibits state and local law enforcement from enforcing federal gun laws.The gun debate in Arizona will continue even as the Center for American Progress contrasted weak gun laws and gun violence in the United States.