The president of the state Senate said Friday he finds nothing wrong with lawmakers bringing loaded weapons into the building.
Tim Bee, a Tucson Republican, said he believes legislators have been coming to work armed for a number of years — at least since a 1994 state law authorized people to legally carry concealed weapons. Bee said his predecessors never made an issue of it.
But Bee acknowledged it was a sort of “don’t-ask-don’ttell” policy. He said it was not until Sen. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, admitted Thursday that she carries her .22-caliber revolver into the building every day.
“We have members who stay late at night,” Bee said. “Obviously they feel that carrying their gun with them makes them feel safe.”
Victor Riches, Bee’s chief of staff, said it’s not against the law for his boss to allow lawmakers to carry loaded weapons into the building.
He said a state law prohibiting individuals from having firearms in public buildings is “optional,” permitting the operator of a public building to ban guns by both posting a sign at the entrance and providing a place for visitors to check their weapons.
The Senate does both. In fact, anyone else who comes into the building is required to check arms at the door.
But Bee said that disparate treatment is appropriate.
“The reason for putting them (the guns) in the lockers is we don’t know who is coming into the building,” he said.
The weapons policy across the courtyard is different. Barrett Marson, spokesman for House Speaker Jim Weiers, a Phoenix Republican, said no one is allowed to bring a gun into the House building.
That policy allows the speaker to “authorize exceptions ... as deemed appropriate to the circumstances.”
Marson said, though, Weiers has not granted any exceptions. That includes the speaker, who has a permit to carry a concealed weapon but does not bring it into the building.
The issue of weapons in buildings rekindles questions of whether there is sufficient security at the state Capitol. There are no metal detectors in either the House or Senate, and most guards are unarmed.
Riches said the Senate is exploring several security changes, including requiring visitors to pass through a metal detector. But Marson said Weiers does not see that as an option.
“The speaker relies on the guards to first of all be observant and to look for any suspicious activity,” he said. “But, barring that, we do live in a free society.”
Marson also said the layout of the building would make it difficult to funnel all visitors through metal detectors.