Originally Published: April 11, 2017 6 a.m.
PHOENIX — A letter from a Tucson retiree who used to be a California investigator proved instrumental in killing legislation that would have allowed people to fire off small-caliber “snake shot” in city limits.
HB2022 failed on a tie vote Monday after Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix, read the letter from Michael Cardwell who spoke of his 32 years working for the San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department and patrolling the 23,000 square miles, much of that in the Mohave Desert. He detailed — and she read for colleagues — the foolishness of people who feel the need to shoot at snakes, particularly rattlesnakes.
But it wasn’t just that Cardwell said the best course of action is to leave the snakes alone.
“The bottom line when it comes to destroying small animals like rattlesnakes is that gunfire presents a much greater danger to bystanders than the snake itself,” Brophy McGee read. “Projectiles filed into the ground at low angles, even shotgun pellets and snake shot, very frequently ricochet and put holes in buildings, cars and people.”
Brophy McGee said she’s not sure that the letter made the difference in denying Rep. Jay Lawrence, R-Scottsdale, the necessary 16 votes needed for Senate approval. Lawrence already had shepherded the bill through the House on a 35-25 margin on claims of Second Amendment rights of Arizonans to arm themselves with whatever ammunition they believe is appropriate.
But Brophy McGee said it probably helped cement the opposition as she and Republican Sen. Bob Worsley of Mesa joined with the 13 Democrats to kill it.
“I certainly hoped it help them to kind of think it through,” she said following the vote. “This was not a good bill.”
Lawrence took a slap at Brophy McGee.
“I would not expect Brophy McGee to ever change her vote,” he told Capitol Media Services. “She is a Democrat,” Lawrence argued, despite her party registration and her votes with the GOP on many — though not all — issues.
That leaves Worsley. But he said he has no inclination to change his mind.
The fight is over “Shannon’s Law,” a 2000 measure that makes it a felony to shoot off a weapon inside city limits. It’s named after Shannon Smith who was killed the prior year from a bullet fired up in the air by someone who was never captured.
Lawrence argued that snake shot, also sometimes called rat shot, should not fit under the ban, arguing the pellets are the size of grains of sand. He even offered during House floor debate to let someone shoot him with the ammunition but backed down after several of his colleagues volunteered.
In his letter to Brophy McGee, Cardwell questioned the need for anyone to shoot a snake, even with this particular type of shell.
“The best option is to leave the snake alone,” he wrote. “If it must be removed from a doorstep, garage or other place where it cannot be tolerated, pushing it away with a long-handled broom or other implement is reasonably safe if carefully done.”
Lawrence said foes are looking at the issue backwards.
“It really isn’t a question of why do we need this kind of ammunition,” he said.
“It is a question of, why not?” Lawrence continued. “If we are allowed to carry firearms, open and concealed in the state of Arizona, and there is an ammunition that is available, why should we be deprived of the ability to carry that ammunition?”
In fact, though, nothing in existing law prohibits the sale or possession of snake shot. The only issue is the ability to use it in city limits.