State senators voted Wednesday to bar officials from keeping guns out of government buildings unless an agency is willing to spend the money to install metal detectors.
SB 1201 would repeal a law that now permits city, county, state and other governments to declare their facilities a weapons-free zone solely by posting signs and making arrangements to check the guns of those who enter.
Instead, all public buildings would be presumed to be open for weapons. Only if there were either fixed metal detectors or security guards with hand wands could guns be legally precluded.
Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, said the current law is based on a fallacy that having a sticker on the door declaring a building to be gun free really makes it so.
"The stickers only stop law-abiding citizens,'' he said. "If you're a criminal, the stickers don't stop you.''
And the same is true, he said, of someone who is psychotic.
"But it does disarm law-abiding citizens,'' Gould said. "So should one of those psychotic or criminal of evil intent come into the building, essentially you've disarmed anybody that might be able to defend them.''
Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, countered that Gould's bill is built on a different fallacy.
"This notion that more guns will solve a problem is ridiculous,'' he said.
The voice vote for preliminary approval came after lawmakers defeated an attempt by Gallardo to make the bill's provisions inapplicable to public arenas, stadiums and ballfields that hold more than 1,000 people.
He said these locations can be volatile, with pumped up -- and often intoxicated -- fans. Gallardo said these sites should not have to install metal detectors at each entrance to maintain their status as gun-free zones.
Gould said Gallardo is right that guns are not a good idea in these places. But he said the same argument applies here: The stickers and signs at the entrances now do nothing to keep the weapons out.
Current law gives the owners of all buildings the right to post them as places where guns are not allowed.
In the case of public buildings, the law says that those who are carrying weapons must have the opportunity to check their firearms rather than leave them in their vehicles. Only if there is no procedure for checking can the gun owner keep his or her firearm.
The problem with that, said Gould, is that the ban is only as good as the person reading the sign.
He noted, for example, that the state Senate is officially posted as a weapons-free zone, though Senate President Russell Pearce has granted exceptions for legislators.
"That really doesn't keep any of us safe,'' Gould said, saying that everyone knows there are guns in the building.
"If we really wanted to secure the Senate, we'd run people through a metal detector if we wanted to disarm them,'' he continued. "That's really what we're talking about: Do people want to feel safe, or do they really want to be safe?''
He said the current system of stickers and signs creates a "Pollyanna misconception'' that these postings mean there are no weapons inside.
Gallardo separately tried, unsuccessfully, to tack on an amendment to say that anyone selling a weapon at a public gun show would have to get proof that the buyer is a U.S. citizen, showing one of the same documents now required in Arizona before someone can register to vote. He said that would help keep weapons out of the hands of Mexican drug cartels.
Gould dismissed that as meaningless, saying only a small number of firearms change hands at gun snows.
"And we do need to remember that guns are personal property,'' he said. "And here in America, we have the ability to sell our personal property to other people.''