A first-term state lawmaker denied Monday she deliberately pointed a loaded gun at a newspaper reporter during an interview at the state Senate.
Sen. Lori Klein, R-Anthem, admitted in a statement she took her .380 Ruger out of its carrying case during an interview last month with Arizona Republic reporter Richard Ruelas in the lounge outside the Senate chamber. But Klein, who refused to comment, instead issued a statement saying that was done for the benefit of the photographer who wanted to see the gun and the laser sight -- and that Ruelas sat down in the path of the laser.
The Republic refused to make Ruelas available. But he told KPNX-TV which, like the Republic, is owned by Gannett, that there was a separate incident, earlier in the interview, where she pointed the gun at his chest.
Ruelas said he did not think much of what had occurred at the time of the June interview. And he mentions it only briefly in a larger story published Sunday on the fact that Klein carries her weapon into the building.
But the story gained national attention when picked up on the Internet. It also resurrected a debate over an unofficial policy that allows senators -- but no one else -- to carry their weapons into the building.
Senate President Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, did not immediately return calls seeking comment. But Pearce told Capitol Media Services in January that he was not troubled by Klein -- or others -- being armed in the Senate.
"The best thing you could do to protect freedom for yourself and others is to have good citizens that are capable of protecting themselves and others," he said at the time. "I would never have a policy that restricts members."
The story Ruelas did on Klein is part of a package the newspaper is doing about Arizona and the state's history and relationship with guns.
Klein has never been shy about her decision to arm herself and bring the weapon into the Senate.
"I believe that my responsibility is to protect myself," she told Capitol Media Services in January, just days after taking office.
"I'm comfortable carrying," Klein continued. "And I had no intention of creating any concern.''
In his story, Ruelas related that the gun Klein pulled out has no safety. But he said she told him not to worry.
"I just didn't have my hand on the trigger,'' he reported her saying.
Ruelas did not file a police report after the incident, which occurred in early June, or otherwise complain to Senate officials.
Klein, in her statement, denied doing anything improper.
"I ensured that the chamber was clear before displaying the weapon,'' she wrote. Klein also said she pointed the gun at the wall.
But in one version of the statement given to Sonoran Alliance, a conservative blog, Klein added that during this demonstration, "the reporter came and sat down in the sofa in front of me, placing himself in the line of the laser sight,'' her statement says. Klein said she apologized but let him know he was safe "because I keep my finger out of the trigger guard.''
A slightly altered version of the statement released to Capitol Media Services did not mention that.
Ruelas, in his TV interview, said it did not occur to him at the time that his life might have been in danger.
"I didn't know that the gun did not have a safety,'' he said.
"So I figured she must know what she's doing,'' Ruelas continued. "She wouldn't recklessly point a gun at me, so I did not feel in any danger.''
None of that satisfied Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix. He said many shootings occur by people who later insist that their finger was not on the trigger.
Gallardo, who has been a foe of recently enacted laws easing restrictions on who can carry concealed weapons, called on Pearce to reverse his policy that allows lawmakers to bring weapons into the building even though that privilege is denied to others.
He also said the incident should be investigated by the Senate Ethics Committee.
But Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, who chairs the panel, said that Klein's actions, while possibly reckless, did not violate any Senate rules.
"I do agree that it's a violation of the first rule of gun safety, which is don't point a gun at anything you're not willing to shoot,'' he said. Gould also said that if Ruelas had a problem with the senator's actions "he should have made a police report.''