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Governor Jan Brewer will decide within days whether to sign a bill allowing guns in libraries, city halls and other public buildings in Arizona (BEESAZ), where a U.S. lawmaker was shot in the head last year.
The bill, which passed the state Senate yesterday, would allow armed people on public property unless the space is protected by metal detectors, security personnel and firearm lockers. Governments say that providing such measures to keep guns out would cost millions of dollars.
The goal of the bill is “to prevent murder,” said Charles Heller, a co-founder of the Arizona Citizens Defense League. His 6,500-member gun-rights group pushed for the bill.
“If you are a criminal or a terrorist, what better place can you commit your mayhem than a place where you know everyone is disarmed?” Heller, who is also a local talk-radio host, said today by telephone.
Under the measure, municipalities and other governments wouldn’t be able to ban guns in their public buildings, as they can now, unless the spaces are secured. The bill passed the state House of Representatives March 6.
If Brewer, a 67-year-old Republican, signs it, the state would join others that allow guns in government buildings. Nine states allow guns in their capitols, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Passage of the measure followed the shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, in a Tucson grocery store parking lot in January 2011.
Brewer’s decision will be made amid increased scrutiny of the nation’s gun laws after the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida. Authorities initially didn’t charge the shooter, George Zimmerman, because of a National Rifle Association-backed state law that expanded the definition of self defense.
Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix, said adding security to its buildings as a way to keep them gun-free would cost $11.3 million for equipment and $19.5 million in continuing expenses, according to a legislative analysis.
Those costs are too high, said state Representative Ruben Gallego, a gun-owning Phoenix Democrat who opposed the measure.
“We want our libraries and community centers to be gun- free zones,” Gallego said by telephone about buildings in his South Phoenix district, which is among the city’s high-crime areas. “This is where people go to get away from gun violence. This bill is going to require the militarization of our community centers and libraries.”
Brewer, who has five days to decide on the bill, vetoed a similar measure last year. Heller said changes have been made to alleviate her concerns.
The NRA backed the governor with an A+ rating in 2010. Since taking office in 2009, she has signed several measures expanding gun rights, including allowing them in bars and letting residents carry concealed weapons without a permit. Last month, she approved an NRA-supported bill to let hunters use silencing devices on their weapons.
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