All Arizonans would be able to carry concealed weapons without fear of being jailed under the terms of legislation given preliminary House approval Wednesday.
On a voice vote, lawmakers agreed to make it a petty offense to carry a weapon out of sight without having obtained a state permit and gone through the legally necessary training. The maximum penalty would be $300.
At the same time, lawmakers rejected an effort to make it a crime to carry a weapon onto a college or university campus. Rep. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said last week’s shooting deaths of 33 students and teachers at Virginia Tech underscored the need for such a restriction.
But Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said the lesson from that incident is precisely the reverse: He said if students on that campus had been armed, they would not have become merely “targets” during the rampage.
“If somebody had a gun at Virginia Tech it probably would have saved some lives,” he said.
State law allows most Arizonans — not including felons — to freely carry weapons in the open. Individuals who undergo background checks and training, however, can get permission to carry a concealed gun.
Those who have a concealed weapons permit still are subject to other laws prohibiting guns in specified places, such as public schools.
Under current law, those who have hidden weapons but lack the proper permit can be sent to jail for up to six months and face a $2,500 fine.
SB1629 reduces that to a petty offense, punishable only by the $300 fine. The bill would allow repeat offenders to be jailed for up to 30 days and face a $500 fine.
The legislation would leave the existing six-month penalty intact if a weapon were carried on school grounds, whether open or concealed. But Gallardo’s proposal to expand that to include universities and community colleges was rejected by a majority in the House.
Pearce said gun laws only deter law-abiding citizens from carrying weapons.
He said anyone who has a concealed weapons permit has been through a background check, had their fingerprints taken and been through stateordered training.
“We know you’re a good guy,” Pearce said. “Why would we restrict you from carrying a gun on a campus — or anywhere?”
Gallardo argued that the solution to violence on campus is not more guns but additional security.
The Arizona Board of Regents has a policy that bans carrying guns at all three state universities.
Lisa Campbell, a spokeswoman for Arizona State University, acknowledged there is no law against having a gun on campus. She said ASU police simply will request that the person carrying the weapon remove it from campus, though students also might be subject to penalties under the school’s code of conduct.
Eugene Mejia, spokesman for the University of Arizona Police Department, said officers will stop those with a weapon and ask them to surrender it.
Mejia said the university relies on another provision of state law that makes it illegal to enter a “public establishment” with a weapon. That law, however, outlines that it’s only a crime if the operator of an establishment requests that the weapon holder remove the weapon and place it in temporary storage.