In a year when state lawmakers have been quick on the trigger for new gun legislation, Gov. Janet Napolitano stopped a political bullet Monday by vetoing a plan that would have allowed firearms into bars and restaurants that serve liquor.
Napolitano’s rejection wasn’t a surprise. Political polls show most Arizonans don’t want to mix guns and alcohol in public places. But legislative passage of SB1363 in the face of scathing ridicule from some corners reflects the stronger influence of the National Rifle Association on a more conservative Legislature.
"I’m really pleased that there has been as much activity on this
gun legislation as we have had," said Sen. Karen Johnson, RMesa, leading sponsor of a half-dozen bills related to carrying firearms. "A lot of voters in this state support Second Amendment values."
Arizona already is considered to have some of the most liberal gun laws in the country, and the Legislature has made it even easier this year to carry a weapon.
Napolitano signed one bill into law that relaxes the rules for obtaining a concealed weapons permit, and has signed two others that waive requirements for training and background checks for county jail detention guards and retired police officers.
A fourth new law encourages schools to teach a semester course on using rifles and shotguns along with a history lesson on the Second Amendment.
But the governor balked at SB1363. Proponents say the bill would have brought bars and restaurants in line with other businesses that are required to admit people who carry their firearms in holsters, or with permits to carry concealed weapons, unless the businesses post signs that say otherwise.
In an attempt to mollify opponents, the bill would have forbidden gun owners from actually drinking, a rule that doesn’t exist in 30 other states that have similar laws.
Still, the bill was vigorously opposed by police unions and the tourism industry, which argued there still would be a strong potential for gun violence.
"I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and consult its plain language when analyzing gun ownership rights," Napolitano said in her veto message.
"When it comes to common sense safety issues, however, I am particularly interested in the views of the law enforcement community," she said.
Supporters said Napolitano’s veto carries more meaning than her rhetoric on supporting gun rights.
"This is a bill that has a real and practical effect on the everyday use and carrying of firearms, that has a real impact on law-abiding citizens that own guns," said Todd Rathner, an NRA board member from Tucson. "It’s the first bill of its kind to reach her desk, and she failed."
Most proponents of gun rights say they aren’t trying to return Arizona to the "Wild West," but are seeking to make it easier for residents to defend themselves. They say they don’t blindly support every gun bill.
For example, Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler, used his position as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee to block a bill authored by Johnson that would have scrapped all criminal penalties for carrying a concealed weapon without a state permit.
"My general philosophy is to take a look and think each piece through and make sure I can say with a high degree of confidence that the concealed carry permit holder is a highly qualified individual," Huppenthal said.
Huppenthal also was influential in amending a bill signed Monday by Napolitano to require renewal of a concealed weapons permit every five years instead of every four, and to reduce the amount of initial firearms training from 16 hours to eight.
The original bill would have granted concealed weapons permits for life.
Meanwhile in March, Rep. Doug Quelland, R-Phoenix, halted work on another proposal after Capitol Media Services reported it would have eliminated most state restrictions on using machine guns, explosives and other military hardware.
Quelland said he was misled about the actual impact of the bill by "unnamed" gunrights advocates not directly affiliated with the NRA.
Still, the NRA and its supporters admit they would prefer much fewer restrictions on owning and carrying guns. Critics say any compromises with gun-rights advocates are only temporary.
"They’re trying to do it a little at a time, realizing that bolder moves could set off as a public backlash," said Sen. Bill Brotherton, D-Phoenix, who owns three firearms.
"They are not politically stupid. They don’t want to alarm people," he said.
Gun legislation signed by governor
SB1269: Allows county detention officers to carry concealed weapons without state permit.
SB1271: Creates a new school elective class for students to learn how to use rifles and shotguns.
HB2325: Extends expiration date of concealed weapons permit from four to five years; reduced required firearms training from 16 hours to eight.
HB2450: Allows retired police officers to carry concealed weapons with new, special permit that doesn’t require background check or additional firearms training.
Gun legislation vetoed Monday
SB1363: Would have allowed people to carry firearms into bars and restaurants serving liquor, unless a facility posts signs forbidding weapons at every entrance. People with firearms would have been banned from drinking.
Pending gun legislation
HB2409: Would make it easier for out-of-state visitors to carry concealed weapons if they can carry at home. Assigned to conference committee because of differences between House and Senate.
Previously stalled gun legislation
HB2666: Would have eliminated nearly all restrictions on carrying firearms and explosives. Sponsor halted measure after learning true impact of proposal.
SB1438: Would have decriminalized carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. Never heard in committee.