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Tue, March 19

Senate panel voted to force some people to surrender weapons

PHOENIX — A Senate panel voted 4-3 Thursday to allow judges to force some people to surrender their weapons — but only after a multi-step process that supporters say will protect due process rights.

But foes of SB 1519 has what foes say is a glaring loophole: It does nothing to expand existing laws designed to ensure that those people who should not have a gun from getting one: universal background checks before a weapon can be sold.

Sen. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, who chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce and Public Safety, said it was purposely designed that way.

“Pridefully, mind you, I’m A-plus rated by the NRA,’’ he told dozens of people who came out to testify.

“I intend on keeping it that way,’’ Smith said. “I am not going to run a piece of legislation that I think runs afoul to our constitutionally guaranteed Second Amendment rights.’’

But Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix, who raised the question of expanding requirements for background checks on potential buyers, said she disagrees with how Smith sees the issue.

“I don’t think we’re asking to take away gun rights,’’ she said. “I support responsible gun owners.’’

Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, was more direct in her response.

“You may be proud of your NRA rating,’’ she told Smith. “But this bill rates a D-minus,’’ saying 40 percent of gun sales are unregulated, not subject to background checks.

“Cash, carry, no questions asked,’’ Hills said.

SB 1519 contains provisions proponents say will help reduce gun violence, particularly at schools.

The heart is the ability of individuals, including family members, school administrators, significant others and those who have cohabited with someone to file legal papers asking a judge to order someone, picked up.

What’s required is a “credible threat’’ of death or serious physical injury or some sort of actual or attempted act of violence in the prior six months that was intended to cause death or serious physical injury to self or others.

A judge who determines there is enough in the complaint to pursue the matter can order police to pick up that person for an initial hearing where the person can be present, have counsel and make his or her own case.

A judge who determines there is “clear and convincing’’ evidence of a threat can issue a Severe Threat Order of Protection allowing that person to be held for evaluation and that person must surrender a firearm for up to 21 days, a period that can be extended. Having a weapon while under a STOP order would subject the person to felony charges.

Democrats won’t support the package as it is, with one key issue being the failure to enact universal background checks.

In proposing the measure last month, Gov. Doug Ducey said he wants to be sure that those who should not have access to guns are kept from obtaining one. That’s why he wants changes to the system that requires courts and others to report convictions into a national database, the one used by federal firearms dealers to determine whether they can sell a gun to a customer.

But Arizona law does not require such checks for personal sales. And that includes people selling one or more weapons at gun shows.

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