Pima Supes vote 3-2 to challenge Arizona ban on local gun controls
Pima County is challenging an Arizona law that limits local gun control measures, with the Board of Supervisors voting 3-2 for a resolution to sue the state and call on legislators to repeal the statute and treat gun violence as a "public health crisis."
The law, A.R.S. 13-3108, prohibits Arizona counties and cities from enforcing gun control measures that are more restrictive than what’s on the state books. The ban covers local ordinances, rules and taxes that would limit firearms sales, as well as any licensing.
“It is wrong for state government to impede through this statute the role counties have under Arizona state law as the public health authorities for their regions,” reads the resolution proposed by Supervisor Rex Scott.
“State government is failing to lead in taking on gun violence,” the resolution said. “Just as they failed to lead in taking on the greatest public health crisis in a century,” the COVID-19 pandemic.
Board Chair Sharon Bronson and Supervisor Steve Christy opposed the motion. Christy, the only Republican on the county board, accused Scott of wanting to "take away everyone's guns" while Bronson, a Democrat like the rest of the elected supervisors, said the resolution will "have unintended consequences," such as loss of state-shared revenue.
Scott was still able to pass his resolution with support from Supervisors Adelita Grijalva and Matt Heinz, with the three approving the motion at a meeting last Tuesday.
Scott argued that “as the public health authority of our region,” per state law, the county has a right to regulate guns in their jurisdiction to stop violence.
The conversation of stopping gun shows at the Pima County fairgrounds has been brought up by Scott at previous meetings, dating to last year, and the board revisited the discussion last week.
Scott asked the Pima County Attorney’s Office in December whether the county could direct the Southwestern Fair Commission, a nonprofit group that the county licenses to operate the fairgrounds, to stop inking new contracts with gun show promoters.
The county can’t require the SFC to end gun shows, attorneys wrote in a March memo, as it isn't a government agency, but such an action could also result in a lawsuit due to A.R.S. 13-3108 and its ban on more restrictive gun measures in local jurisdictions.
Public outcry and support
The idea of gun control attracted a small group of opponents to the meeting, with accusations of “tyranny” made during the public comment period — though the resolution also received some support from attendees.
More than a dozen speakers attacked the resolution during the call to the audience, calling it “radicalism,” “tyranny” and “extremism” and telling Scott to resign. A small group of opponents of the resolution applauded each of the speakers.
Christy leveled some of the same attacks on Scott, even saying that “Supervisor Scott wants to take away everyone's guns.”
“It’s a total gun control measure,” Christy said. “Supervisor Scott is reaching for broad and sweeping gun control by citing ‘public health.’”
Scott responded to Christy, saying his attacks were “painting with a very broad brush.”
“To say that I’m going after target shooting or hunting or any activities by law abiding gun owners, that kind of rhetoric or tactics are familiar to anybody in this county who has called for common sense gun regulations," Scott said.
Taking away people’s guns is “not at all implied or inferred, it certainly isn’t directly stated in this resolution,” Scott said.
Grijalva supported the proposal, saying, “there needs to be some pushback at a local level if we can’t get our federal government and state government to do what’s in the best interest of our communities.”
Scott agreed that the federal government needs to do more to protect communities from gun violence, but he noted that in late June, Congress passed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which President Joe Biden called “the first significant piece of gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years,” in a public statement. More than $350 million will be spent on gun safety measures, according to the law.
Grijalva, also on the Governing Board of Tucson Unified School District, noted that kids are returning to schools and that “guns are the leading cause of death among American children and teens,” a trend dating to 2017, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Bronson did not support Scott’s resolution, saying “it has unintended consequences.”
“it will directly impact our state-shared revenue,” Bronson said. “And I think it’s too broad in its scope. If we’re going to do something about gun violence, it needs to start with the federal government.”
However, she did agree with Grijalva and Scott that so far, the federal government hasn't done much to protect local communities from gun violence.
Two speakers supported the gun control resolution. One was Jan. 8 shooting survivor Patricia Maisch, who told the supervisors that “it’s your responsibility to save lives and please continue with your resolution.”
“If that gunman had not had anything but .33 rounds in his hands and threw them at us, nobody would have gone to urgent care, much less the morgue,” Maish said.
'Prospects for success are not high'
The board also moved to publicly release two privileged memos from the Pima County Attorney’s Office about ending gun shows at the Pima County Fair. The first memo, dated March 1, says “the prospects for success” of a lawsuit to repeal A.R.S. 13-3108 “are not high.”
“The county would need to show that the statute is unconstitutional, and we have yet to identify a viable argument to challenge its constitutionality,” according to the memo, written by Sam Brown, the chief civil deputy Pima County attorney.
Regardless, the board voted to tell Pima County Attorney Laura Conover and her staff to move “forward with a lawsuit to challenge this statute” and gave them three months “to do the necessary research to find the grounds to take on this law,” according to the resolution.
It also calls on “the legislators and governor who take office in January to repeal this statute.”
The published memos answer questions submitted in December by Scott and Grijalva about forcing the Fair Commission to stop gun shows by ending contracts with promoters.
The group can act on its own as an independent nonprofit, the first memo reads, and can continue to contract with gun show promoters. Even if the board tried to stop them, it would violate the state law that the supervisors hope to see repealed.
Gun show promoters can also sue the commission for refusing to renew a contract on the grounds of discrimination laid out in the state law, according to second memo, dated March 24.
“A gun show promoter may argue that SFC is a political subdivision,” which are prohibited from taking restrictive gun measures by state law. “And that by refusing to contract with gun shows the SFC is violating A.R.S. § 13-3108,” the memo says the success of such a claim is “unlikely.”
Christy noted that the memos had already been published, to the surprise of Scott, who said he’d been informed otherwise. Bronson moved the question of releasing them forward for a vote anyway, “just to make sure we cross our T’s and dot our I’s,” she said.
Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.