Bill would make governments liable for ‘gun-free zone’ shootings

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State law bars people from carrying guns in most government buildings, but Republicans on a Senate panel Thursday backed a proposal that would allow people to sue the government for damages if a shooting occurs in a “gun-free zone.”

The measure, which is designed to pressure governments not to enforce no-gun policies, sparked outrage from gun control advocates, including members of the group Moms Demand Action, an advocacy group founded by the mother of a Sandy Hook shooting victim that lobbies for gun-control measures

Among the opponents was Patricia Maisch, who was lauded as a hero for wrestling a fresh magazine of bullets away from Jared Loughner as he tried to reload his gun after shooting U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people in a Tucson grocery store parking lot.

“You want some cowboy to come in and start shooting?” she told the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Maisch noted that the Tucson shooting didn’t happen in a gun-free zone. 

Senate Bill 1664, sponsored by Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, imposes civil liability on government entities for people harmed by “criminal conduct” that occur in gun-free zones. 

It would define a gun-free zone as any “building, place, area or curtilage that is open to the public” where a person’s right or “ability to possess a firearm is infringed, restricted or diminished in any way by a rule, regulation, policy, code, ordinance, utterance or posted sign.” 

While most of those who testified on the measure Thursday opposed it, hundreds of people used the legislature’s online system to register support for the bill.

One of those supporters, Merissa Hamilton, a local political activist and former staffer for Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio, said she was attacked by a homeless man in crisis outside a government building where she was not allowed to carry her gun. The incident triggered the victimization she experienced as a domestic violence survivor, and said the government should be held responsible when it places limits on Second Amendment rights. 

The League of Arizona Cities and Towns, which represents the interests of most municipalities in the state, opposes SB1664. Roxanna Pitones, one of the organization’s lobbyists, told the panel the legislation would remove the right of due process for cities and towns.

The bill passed along party lines, and is now set to be considered by the full Senate.