PHOENIX - An Arizona Senate committee approved five major pro-gun bills on Monday, advancing what Republicans call necessary legislation to protect Second Amendment rights but what Democrats say is unnecessary and a waste of time.
The Senate Judiciary Committee pushed forward the bills that cleared the state House last week.
House Bill 2339 would allow guns in government buildings unless security measures -- including armed guards, metal detectors and gun lockers -- are in place. The measure, by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, excludes public K-12 schools, community colleges and universities. Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill last year.
In what became a heated debate, Sen. Steve Gallardo, D-Phoenix, said the bill imposed unfair requirements on cities and towns.
"The fact is that this would be a very expensive, and the fact is that most people don't support this type of legislation," he said.
The Arizona Citizens Defense League, the Tucson-based group behind some of the bills, defended the measure, saying it's a basic constitutional right to bear arms.
"Why are we barring the door to the law-abiding citizens? Why aren't we worried about the criminals? We're talking about law-abiding citizens here," said the group's president, Dave Kopp.
Another measure approved Monday would allow authorities to charge a person with aggravated assault who's accused of wresting a gun away from someone else. Doing so is already a felony offense.
House Bill 2338 is a preventative measure in case a criminal were to take the gun of someone using it in self-defense, said Barton, who also sponsored this bill. Democrats say the measure is a waste of time because it rehashes what's already a crime.
Other bills the committee approved:
-- House Bill 2517, sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, would impose fines on cities, towns and their lawmakers who enforce gun ordinances stricter than the state's own laws. The bill would impose a civil penalty of up to $5,000 on city and town governments that violate the statute. It would also allow the state to sue individual government officials, such as city councilors, and would prohibit them from using public funds to defend themselves in court.
-- House Bill 2535, by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, would speed up the certification process for high-caliber firearms for private citizens. Weapons like machine guns require approval by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, but a local law enforcement agency must first conduct a background check before an applicant can request ATF approval. Under the bill, officers would be required to either certify or deny a weapon within 60 days. Kavanagh says some agencies take too long or don't process the application at all. His original bill called for a 15-day deadline to process applications at the local level, but an amendment extended that. Democrats say there's no reason to rush the approval process of such powerful weapons.
-- House Bill 2103, by Kelly Townsend, R-Mesa, would lower the age requirement to get a concealed weapons permit for military members from 21 to 19.