John Kavanagh

John Kavanagh

A Senate panel gave the go ahead for more people to bring loaded weapons into more places.

One measure approved by the Judiciary Committee would allow the more than 390,000 Arizonans with permits to carry a concealed weapon to bring them into most public buildings, regardless of what the sign on the door says.

That 5-2 vote on HB 2551 came over the objections of city and county officials who questioned the wisdom of having more armed people in government offices and buildings. 

They pointed out that the only way they could keep out people with weapons would be to install and staff metal detectors to keep out everyone with a gun.

By an identical party-line margin, the committee said any adult is free to bring a loaded weapon onto a school campus as long as it left in a locked vehicle.

Current law permits weapons in vehicles, but only if unloaded. HB 2840 would remove that requirement.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, the sponsor of the measure about guns in public buildings, said opponents are overly worried.

He pointed out that existing law already allows current and retired police officers to ignore the “no weapons’’ signs on public buildings. All this does is expand it to “a new small group.’’

Anyway, Kavanagh said, these are people who have taken the required course to get a permit, gone through a background check and been fingerprinted.

None of that impressed Sen. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson.

First, she said, the number of people with CCW permits is hardly a small group, representing close to one person out of everyone 21 and older, the age at which someone can get such a license. And she scoffed at the claim people have been properly trained.

Nearly 194,000 carry permits have been issued in Maricopa County.

Kavanagh said the current law, which makes public buildings off limits to those with weapons, is pretty much a joke.

“The sign on the door is very effective at keeping law-abiding citizens with weapons out,’’ he said. “It is not that efficient at keeping lawbreakers out. Lawbreakers don’t obey the law.’’

What that means, he said, is the only way to ensure that everyone in a building is disarmed is to have metal detectors.

That point did not escape Sen. Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, who said she has a CCW permit.

“I want a chance to defend myself,’’ she said.

But Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Glendale, said all that is based on a false premise.

“We kind of promote this idea and we put that in people’s heads that if you have a gun you can be a hero,’’ he said.

Kavanagh said nothing in his proposal would force the owners of private property to allow people to bring their guns. But Don Johnsen, a gun owner, said that’s not exactly true.

He pointed out that the measure allows CCW permit holders to bring their weapons into any “public event.’’ And Johnsen said that is defined in state law to include even private events for which someone got a government permit, like a street fair or festival.

HB 2840, the legislation on guns on school grounds has a different origin and different goal.

Rep. Jacqueline Parker, R-Mesa, said the problem with the current law is that it makes criminals out of parents who drive onto school property to pick up a child if they happen to have a loaded weapon in the vehicle.

“It doesn’t involve carrying a gun onto campus or anywhere else,’’ she said. “If the gun ever leaves the car, then the bill changes no longer apply.’’

But the measure as worded doesn’t just cover someone making a quick trip through a parking lot. It also allows a loaded weapon to be in the vehicle all day, a weapon that would be accessible to students who go to school there.

That alarmed Engel who said lawmakers need to see through the eyes of a mother who has gotten a call from her child who is locked down in school.

Rogers said she doesn’t see it that way.

“As a parent and grandparent who has lived in Arizona for 23 years, we cannot be sheep, we cannot be victims,’’ she said. “And we need to be able to defend ourselves.’’