In less than a week, Arizona residents will be allowed to carry a gun in their pocket or purse without needing paperwork to do so.
Senate Bill 1108, which allows people to carry concealed guns with no permit or safety training, takes effect on July 29, the same day controversial immigration legislation is scheduled to begin enforcement. It makes Arizona the third state behind Alaska and Vermont, all supportive of gun rights, to enact a law that raises concerns for law enforcement.
“It’s disconcerting,” said Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead. “The fact that anyone can walk around and carry a gun without training is disconcerting. We don’t let our police officers walk around with a gun without training. Some people will start shoving a gun down their pants and shoot themselves.”
SB 1108, sponsored by Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, was signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer on April 16. People can carry guns without a permit, but still will not be allowed to take a gun into a bar or restaurant without one, as most such establishments prohibit them anyway.
The law also requires police officers to ask people they pull over or apprehend whether they have any weapons, and if the person says no and is carrying a weapon they still can be arrested for carrying a concealed weapon and providing false information to a law enforcement officer — a misdemeanor punishable by a fine and possibly jail time.
Bar owners throughout the East Valley already have a no-guns policy in place, despite the state law requiring permits for people who carry guns into bars or restaurants that serve alcohol.
Phil Marcus has been in the bar business for 15 years in Arizona and owns three bars, Mesa’s Hambone Sports Bar and Grill at 903 W. Main St., one in Phoenix and one in Surprise.
“My particular preference is, I don’t allow anyone in my bar with a gun unless you’re an on-duty police officer,” Marcus said. “I don’t think the law is going to create a bad or dangerous atmosphere. Criminals are going to do whatever they want, and honest people are going to abide by the law.”
At Groggy’s, 2207 W. Main St., Mesa, the no-gun policy also exists, but a bartender there believes people might start trying to bring in guns early on with the law going into effect. However, once the patrons realize they can’t get in with a gun, she believes things will remain the same.
“If people don’t know the law, they might think they’re allowed to bring in a gun, but they’re not,” said Bonnie Harness, who has been a waitress at Groggy’s for six years. “The law doesn’t bother me, and I don’t think it will make much of a difference, but we don’t want people in here with guns getting drunk.”
The Arizona Fraternal Order of Police, the state police union that oversees 38 different lodges and represents about 7,000 members, opposed the law. The group’s president says it was not needed in a state that already was lenient in issuing concealed weapons permits to gun owners with minimal fingerprint and background checks. The law also prohibits federal regulations to apply on firearms that were manufactured in Arizona, and blocks cities from applying their own laws against people carrying concealed weapons.
“The law now makes requirements and training to carry a gun in Arizona nonexistent,” said Sgt. John Ortolana, president of the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police. “I think the law was done to appease the gun lobby. I’m a firm believer in Second Amendment rights, but those rights come with responsibility. There will be people carrying firearms that have no clue about how to operate one, or the problems that can be caused by not knowing how to operate one. Some idiot is going to do something egregious, and there’s going to be an outcry of ‘How could this happen?’ ”
Meanwhile, gun sales remain steady at Glockmeister Glock-Gun Distributor Sales in Mesa, and more people have been coming in to look at smaller handguns, said owner Greg Wolff. The shop sells and distributes firearms to law enforcement officers as well as private owners.
“People are excited about the law and have been calling about it,” he said.
Wolff, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, said the law “looks good on its face,” but he is concerned about people being able to carry guns without some kind of safety training. “A lot more people are going to carry guns,” he said. “It’s people who have had a gun sitting in a drawer for about 10 years who think they can just (start) carrying it around that I’m worried about.”
Although Arizona will continue its gun permit process through the Department of Public Safety, having a concealed permit will be optional. There were 158,170 active permits issued as of July 11 — up 3,891 since April 4, according to DPS figures.
Although people no longer are required to have permits if they are carrying a concealed weapon and are not required to take a gun safety course if they carry a gun, they still cannot carry a concealed gun across state lines, according to DPS spokesman Robert Bailey.
“Just because we pass a law in Arizona, doesn’t mean they recognize it everywhere else,” Bailey said. “People can still get permits if they want to take a concealed weapon across state lines or take a weapons course.”
There are 34 other states that provide reciprocity by allowing people from Arizona to carry a concealed weapon if they have a permit, according to Pearce.
The legislator said the law is constitutional and a “great bill” for law-abiding citizens. It also increases felonies for criminals carrying guns, Pearce said.
“I take no prisoners when it comes to peoples’ civil liberties and constitutional rights,” he said.
The Arizona Fraternal Order of Police’s Mesa Lodge No. 9 said like every other new law enacted, they will enforce it.
Asking people who are pulled over or apprehended if they are carrying any weapons is something officers already are doing and should be doing all the time anyway, said lodge president Bryan Soller.
“This won’t change the way we do business, but personally, I didn’t think the law was necessary,” Soller said. “We believe it’s a tool that’s been taken away from us. Before, if we asked someone if they were carrying a gun and they said yes, but didn’t have a permit, we could charge them with having a concealed weapon without a permit. Criminals and gang members are going to carry a gun anyway, and they’re the ones who wouldn’t tell you if they were.”