State lawmakers agreed Thursday to let some gun owners bring their weapons into restaurants, but not before they expanded the measure to also apply to bars.
That change in SB1113 came not at the behest of the National Rifle Association, which crafted the bill, but after a push from the organization that represents bar owners. Lobbyist Don Isaacson of the Arizona Licensed Beverage Association said there is no sharp definition in state law that spells out what is a restaurant and what is a bar.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, noted that NRA lobbyist Todd Rathner has argued all along that the legislation is aimed at providing relief to gun owners who simply wanted to get a bite to eat and did not want to leave their loaded weapons in their vehicles. She called extending that right to places where food isn't served "a dangerous cocktail.''
Sinema acknowledged that the law would preclude anyone who is armed from also drinking. But she said the legislation applies only to those who have a state-issued permit to carry a concealed weapon, and because they are not carrying a gun in the open, Sinema said there is no way to enforce that no-drinking provision.
The 6-2 vote by the House Judiciary Committee to let guns into bars and restaurants was one of three measures advanced Thursday to expand the rights of gun owners.
The same panel also endorsed SB1243, which would allow individuals to "display'' their weapons when they feel in danger without risking prosecution on charges of intimidation.
The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Rural Development voted to allow people to drive onto private property, including private business, and lock their guns in their vehicles, overruling any rules the business owners have for employees or customers. Supporters of HB2474 said it ensures that people who go to work don't have to leave their weapons for self-protection at home just because their employer doesn't want guns on the property.
Current law makes it a crime for anyone to bring a weapon into any place where alcohol is served.
Gary Christensen, lobbyist for the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association, an NRA affiliate, says that is an inconvenience for those who have obtained a permit to carry a concealed weapon because they want to be able to defend themselves. He said the law limits where they can eat, as many restaurants also have liquor licenses.
"You have to decide are you going to go in, are you going to go someplace else, are you going to leave the gun in your car?'' he told members of the House Judiciary Committee.
The original version, sponsored by Sen. Jack Harper, R-Surprise, would have limited the right to carry a weapon only into a place with a liquor license that also has a "kitchen.'' But Isaacson complained that the term isn't defined,
The legislation allows business owners to "opt out'' of the law by posting a "no guns'' sign next to the liquor license. While that is not visible from the outside, Isaacson said nothing in the law precludes bars and restaurants from posting more signs.
Rep. Cecil Ash, R-Mesa, said it makes sense to let those with concealed weapons permits carry them into bars and restaurants.
"Everyone knows places where guns are not allowed are known as target-rich areas for criminals,'' he said.
That same argument formed the basis for backing the rights of gun owners to take their weapons to work - at least in the parking lot - against the rights of property owners. Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said many people carry guns for self-defense.
"Many of these are women victims of domestic violence or women in general who feel vulnerable if they work late at night and they have to drive home alone and they're afraid of getting a flat tire on a lonely road,'' he said.
The 4-2 vote came over the objections of Clint Bolick, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute, who warned legislators that they are setting a bad precedent in elevating the Second Amendment right to bear arms above property rights.
"What we see this legislation doing is turning privately owned parking garages and mom-and-pop parking lots as well into quasi-public property, which is something I hope this Legislature, a freedom-oriented Legislature, would never do,'' he said.