PHOENIX — The Arizona House has given preliminary approval to a gun-rights bill that sparked a public confrontation punctuated by shouting between a legislator and a National Rifle Association lobbyist.
Backed by the NRA, the bill would generally permit gun owners to keep legally owned weapons in their locked vehicles in parking lots and garages, regardless of whether the owner has a policy against allowing guns on the property. The guns would have to be out of sight.
With Thursday’s voice vote, the bill (HB2474) now awaits a formal House vote. Passage would send it to the Senate.
The legislation has stirred controversy among business owners because of concern for private property rights and workplace safety.
The bill would not apply to parking areas of detached, single-family residences.
Along with infringing on private property rights, the bill is flawed because it didn’t provide for gun-free zones at parking for private day care facilities, religious facilities and multifamily housing, opponents said Thursday during debate.
The sponsor, Republican Rep. John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills, said the measure was a “reasonable compromise” that took into account both Second Amendment rights to carry firearms and private property rights.
However, “the right of private property ownership is not absolute,” Kavanagh said. “The Bill of Rights (and) in fact many other laws do not stop at a private property line.”
Supporters said the bill would serve Arizonans who want to have guns in vehicles for self-defense.
“I don’t believe my right to protect myself and my family should be limited when I drive to work,” said Republican Rep. Frank Antenori of Tucson.
Later Thursday, Republican Rep. Bill Konopnicki of Safford said in an interview that NRA lobbyist Todd Rathner threatened his future election prospects during the confrontation in the House’s second-floor lobby.
Konopnicki said Rathner’s comments did not prompt the lawmaker to withdraw a proposed amendment that would have added exemptions that the NRA opposed.
“You know when you’re dealing with people with groups that they’re going to have some influence on you (but) my decision to hold the amendment was based on the fact that I did not have a chance to work members to see where everybody else was,” Konopnicki said.
Rathner said he and a fellow NRA lobbyist had been trying to speak with Konopnicki about the amendment for hours and that he was frustrated by the time he returned to the lobby and found Konopnicki speaking with Rathner’s colleague.
Konopnicki, Rathner said in an interview, “said something like ‘what are you going to do about it?’ That’s when I said we’re going to let all the members in Arizona know exactly who killed their bill and that’s you.”
Rathner, who said he was frustrated because Konopnicki was rated favorably by the NRA, said he later apologized to Konopnicki by e-mail.
“I can’t win in this situation,” Rathner said. “I never should have engaged in an argument like that and out in the hallway like that.”