Prior to my service on the Board of Supervisors, I was an administrator and teacher for almost 30 years. On two occasions, my staff members and I had to put our schools into lockdown because of reports that a student with a gun was roaming campus. Although no one was harmed in either incident, I will never forget the looks of fear and uncertainty on the faces of my colleagues and students.
More times than I care to remember, I attended funerals of students who died as the result of gun violence. A girl who was a victim of a gang-related shooting and several suicides, including one of a sixth grader, all bring to mind memories of anguished family and friends. There is something sickening about watching teenagers grieve the loss of a classmate at far too young an age.
Gun violence is an epidemic in our country, including in Pima County. As Arizona counties are charged under state law with protecting public health, our Board of Supervisors should have the ability to protect residents from public health and safety threats. Sadly, the Arizona Legislature restricts our capacity to fulfill that duty.
There is currently a statute in place (ARS 13-3108) that prohibits political subdivisions from enacting “any ordinance, rule or tax relating to the transportation, possession, carrying, sale, transfer, purchase, acquisition, gift, devise, storage, licensing, registration, discharge or use of firearms or ammunition or any firearm or ammunition components or related accessories in this state.” This statute prevents local governments in our state from taking virtually any action to address gun safety or violence.
The Board of Supervisors learned in the last year just how restrictive this statute is. Two of us asked the county attorney to advise the board as to whether or not we could ban gun shows from being held at the fairgrounds, or at least require that gun sellers at these shows have federal firearms licenses, which would require them to conduct background checks. ARS 13-3108 prevented us from taking either action.
Last month, I asked the county attorney if there were any possibility of the board considering a local “red flag” law, which would permit the sheriff and his deputies to confiscate guns from any resident found to be a danger to themselves or others. There are 19 states with such laws, and it seemed to me the county, as the regional public health authority, should be able to put such a law in place. Again, I was told that ARS 13-3108 prohibited any such law from being enacted.
In the wake of the Uvalde school shooting and the mass murder in a Buffalo grocery store, the U.S. Congress passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act (SCA). I am encouraged that the process of protecting all Americans from the constant threat of gun violence has at long last been taken up by our federal lawmakers.
Here are some of the opportunities the SCA has made available to the Arizona Legislature:
•Financial incentives for enacting state red flag laws.
•The ability for women to seek legal protection from violent boyfriends.
•Access to billions of dollars for mental health care.
•Mandatory background checks on 18- to 21-year-old gun purchasers.
•The ability to impose stricter punishment on “straw purchases” of weapons (where a gun is purchased by one person to give to another).
•Access to $250 million dollars of federal grant funds for establishing locally based violence intervention programs.
We will be electing a new Legislature this year. It is past time state lawmakers act to ensure the safety of the public they say they serve. At a minimum, each legislator should act to take advantage of the opportunities the SCA has provided them. They should also move to repeal ARS 13-3108 so leaders at the local level can act as needed to safeguard our people.