PHOENIX — In the aftermath of two deadly mass shootings in May at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the Republican majority Arizona state legislature confined its discussion about gun violence to points of personal privilege at the end of a floor session.
Republicans focused on the societal causes of mass shootings.
"I thought of my children when I thought of those little kids on their 4th grade graduation, to be trapped in a room with someone, a madman. How scary that would be," House Speaker Rusty Bowers lamented, "we see and worship and pay for and are entertained by violence to such a degree and I just want you to know if it were possible to take that pain away I would."
Democrats were calling for action. State Representative Jennifer Longdon, (D-Phoenix-District 24), who is a victim of gun violence, said “these deaths are not the price of freedom. There is so much more that we can do, and I am asking you to work with us to get this done.”
What Representative Longdon and Democrats had in mind were two proposals. One allows voters to decide if the state should require universal background checks on gun purchases. The other takes away someone's concealed weapons permit if they are found guilty of a felony. Neither bill was heard during the 2022 legislative session.
"I think gun bills don't solve the problem," Senate Majority Leader Rick Gray said.
Republicans in the Arizona legislature do support making sure every school is equipped with armed security. That was something already in place at the school in Uvalde and in 2018 when a gunman killed 17 and wounded 17 others in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Lawmakers are also calling for more resources to help with mental health. On that score, the state won't need to wait on the legislature. Congress passed new federal gun legislation. It's the first in nearly 30 years, and President Biden signed it into law.
The Safer Communities Act will provide billions of dollars for mental health services. It will also require enhanced background checks for gun buyers 21 and younger. It prevents domestic abusers from purchasing a firearm for years. Other provisions include providing grants to incentivize states to enact red flag laws, clarifying the definition of a federally licensed firearms dealer and creating penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking.
Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema helped write the bill and negotiate its passage.
“We’re investing in a bi-partisan proposal that will give tools to families so they can feel safe when they send kids to school each day and they know that folks in their community who might be struggling, the mental health care they need,” Sinema said.
According to safehome.org, nearly half a million firearms were purchased in Arizona in 2021. So the impact of the new federal law on Arizonans may take years to determine.