You never know who might be armed on the Arizona House and Senate floors, but someone often is, and signs banning weapons near the legislative chambers apparently don’t apply to lawmakers themselves.
State law makes it illegal to enter a public building or attend a public event with a deadly weapon if the operator of the establishment or event sponsor has asked visitors not to do so. Posted signs usually cover the asking part.
Gun lobbyists, for example, routinely surrender their weapons to security personnel while they’re visiting the House and Senate. But it’s basically an honor system since the buildings aren’t secured by metal detectors.
But on Tuesday, Rep. Bruce Wheeler (D-Tucson) said he spotted Rep. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale) packing heat on the House floor.
Wheeler toted around a professional camera to document images of a “no weapons” sign posted on the front door leading to the lobby of the House of Representatives.
“I saw his weapon and I’m not the only one — several people did, too,” Wheeler said. “I asked him aloud on the floor so other people could hear. I said, ‘Hey, Tony, that gun big enough for you?’ Of course, he ignored me and walked away.”
“I thought it was ridiculous — and it’s illegal, according to the statute that was printed on (the door).”
As the rule-makers in the House and Senate, the Senate president and House speaker decide who may or may not come into their buildings with firearms. And for years, many leaders have had a sort of don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy, if not an outright rule allowing lawmakers to do what they like with their weapons.
This session is no different.
Following Wheeler’s encounter with Kern, Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, sent a letter to House Speaker David Gowan voicing concern that “certain members” are carrying firearms on the floor of the House when there’s a sign on the front door forbidding it.
“We believe it is a crime for anyone, whether a member, staff or visitor, to carry a firearm into the building,” Friese wrote. “We request that you immediately clarify in writing whether individuals are permitted to carry their firearms into the House buildings … Members and the public have a right to know if weapons are being allowed and present in the building, whether any special exceptions are being made for members.”
Five other Democratic lawmakers also signed onto the letter.
They had not received a written response to the letter as of Friday, but House Republican spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham told The Arizona Republic that Gowan does not have a written policy.
“The public cannot carry firearms into the building. Staff may carry, but we have a lockbox for them to secure their firearms during the day. The speaker does not prohibit members from carrying firearms if they so choose,” she said.
Shortly after securing the speaker’s job, Gowan had signs removed from the back door of the House of Representatives. Signs at the front of the chamber remain.
Wheeler questioned Gowan’s judgment, and suggested Kern’s decision to carry a gun was “a whole macho thing — it makes him feel more of a man than he really is.”
Senate Republican spokesman Mike Philipsen said President Andy Biggs’ policy is the same as that of former President Russell Pearce.
In 2011, Pearce sent a memo to lawmakers stating that members could carry guns in the Senate building.
“A member of the Legislature does not lose his or her Second Amendment rights when coming to work each day,” Pearce wrote.