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concealed carry

Constable Bret Roberts in his shared office at the Justice Court. InMaricopa file photo

By Ethan McSweeney

The Maricopa City Council struck down a measure aimed at amending the city’s concealed-carry ordinance that would have included the constable in its definition of a peace officer.

The measure — which would have defined a peace officer and allowed any peace officer to openly carry a gun in city buildings, including the City Council’s chambers — stemmed from a complaint that the city received against the local Justice Court constable, Bret Roberts, openly carrying his gun during a City Council meeting in January.

In April, the Maricopa City Council passed an ordinance that allowed concealed carry weapon permit holders to bring firearms into city buildings, excluding court, police and fire buildings. The language in the proposed amendment to this statute introduced at Tuesday’s meeting specified that a constable would be considered a peace officer, and therefore be able to openly carry a gun into the Council’s chambers.

The constable is an elected position with the responsibility of serving criminal and civil notices. Roberts’ judicial precinct includes Maricopa and Stanfield.

The state law says a constable is considered a peace officer “only in the performance of the constable’s official duties.”

Roberts, a former Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office detention officer, believes that, under state law, he would be considered a peace officer and therefore be able to openly carry his gun on city property. He points out that another section of state law says that a constable falls under the definition of a peace officer with regards to officers carrying a firearm.

“This was never an issue until someone chose to file a complaint,” Roberts said about carrying a gun into the City Council chambers.

Roberts said the complainant, Barry Goldman, filed the complaint because of an animosity Goldman has against him. Goldman, a process server, was the campaign manager for Rich Vitiello in his run for Maricopa City Council two years ago. Roberts said he backed Vitiello’s opponent in that race and Goldman backed one of his challengers for the constable position in 2014.

Goldman, when reached Wednesday, denied any personal dispute with Roberts led to him filing the complaint in January.

“It’s not that I dislike him, but I don’t have confidence in him,” Goldman said.

He said Roberts has no official duties at the City Council meetings and shouldn’t be wearing his gun openly. Goldman also criticized Roberts for wearing a uniform for the job.

“The constable’s job is a low-key job,” Goldman said. “It does not require the use of a police uniform.”

Roberts defended his use of a uniform, saying most constables around the state wear one.

After speaking with City Attorney Denis Fitzgibbons about the complaint, Roberts requested an opinion from the County Attorney’s Office in February to seek clarification on the law. After about a month, the County Attorney sent the request to the state Attorney General, which has yet to issue an opinion.

So, the issue was then brought before the City Council to resolve the ambiguity by adding constable to the language of the amendment.

After an hour-long discussion, the Council rejected the expanded definition on a 5-2 margin. Mayor Christian Price and Council Member Vincent Manfredi supported the change, while the rest of the Council opposed it.

Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl told the Council that he did not think it should go out on its own to define what a peace officer is.

“We’ll probably get ourselves into legal trouble by redefining what a peace officer is,” Stahl said.

Stahl said it’s possible in the event of an emergency, the presence of the constable at the council meeting with a uniform and an openly-worn gun could confuse a member of the public who is trying to seek help, because the constable would not have the power of a peace officer.

Price said he believed only the constable, as an elected official, should be able to decide when he is carrying out his duties and when he isn’t.

“We’re not broadening the term,” Price said. “We’re clarifying it and what it means inside the city of Maricopa under existing laws.”

Councilmember Bridger Kimball said he didn’t think the council should go out of its way to amend the ordinance to accommodate Roberts.

“It seems like we’re changing our firearms ordinance for one person,” Kimball said. “I’m not comfortable doing that.”

He added that Roberts, who has a concealed carry weapon permit, could bring a concealed firearm into the council meeting under the ordinance passed in April.

Manfredi argued the issue was about “more than one person.” He pointed out that the Pinal County sheriff, also an elected position, does not need to be a state-certified peace officer to carry out his duties.

“If a sheriff wins that is not certified, I’d like to see us try to stop him at the door from carrying a weapon,” Manfredi said.

Price added state lawmakers should move to clarify this section of the law to avoid disputes like this one.

If the Attorney General opinion comes down against his position, Roberts said he will seek action from the state Legislature to amend the law.

After receiving some complaints when no-weapons signs went up on city property, the Maricopa City Council began talking about the issue in work sessions.

By Yvonne Gonzalez

Maricopa officials may allow people with concealed firearms permits to carry guns on city property.

The discussion comes after city council members received emails from residents questioning signs that went up last year articulating a long-standing ban on weapons in public places.

A possible measure could impact public facilities like City Hall, Copper Sky Recreation Complex and Maricopa Public Library. The city plans to announce the date of a public hearing by mid-February, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Brown.

Councilmember Vincent Manfredi said people in the community were upset about the no-gun signs, and he’s received emails from about a dozen residents on the topic.

“There needs to be a discussion about it,” Manfredi said. “The ultimate goal is to make sure we are representatives of the people who elect us.”

At a January meeting, Vice Mayor Marvin Brown said the “plethora of emails sent to us” does not necessarily represent the community’s overall opinion.

“It represents a certain group of people who want to carry,” he said.

City Manager Gregory Rose said it appears the town of Gilbert is the only municipality to allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry firearms in certain public areas.

Councilmember Bridger Kimball owns guns shops and knows all sides of the debate on concealed carry on public property. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Councilmember Bridger Kimball owns guns shops and knows all sides of the debate on concealed carry on public property. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Rose told council members during a Jan. 19 work session that state law prohibits the carrying of concealed weapons on public property. A failed bill in the Legislature last year would have allowed people with concealed weapons permits to carry guns in Arizona’s public buildings.

“We’re still monitoring the Legislature very closely,” Rose said. “We believe strongly they will take action on this level.”

Gilbert’s personnel rules prohibit employees and volunteers from carrying weapons in the workplace.

He said safety is also a concern with a policy allowing concealed guns.

“We can’t control what happens in the private sector, but in a public setting we have a great deal of control and responsibility and liability in that avenue,” Rose said.

Maricopa Police Chief Steve Stahl said there is a safety issue at play when officers arrive on the scene of an active shooting and the perpetrator is not the only armed person.

“I would not want to sit here and enable something that happened that went horribly wrong.” – Councilmember Peggy Chapados

Stahl said the rules of engagement do not change in an active shooter situation, whether officers are responding to a grocery store or City Hall.

“For them to have to determine who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy when a gun is being pointed … they don’t have that luxury any longer of announcing, ‘I am a police officer, drop the gun,’” he said.

City staff and part of the council expressed concern state law does not set training requirements for concealed weapons permits.

Manfredi said the Second Amendment gives people the right to own and carry a weapon.

“The fact that there’s any training involved with a concealed weapons permit is a good thing,” he said. “Should there be more? Probably.”

Councilmember Peggy Chapados said more people on both sides need to be given an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

“I would not want to sit here and enable something that happened that went horribly wrong,” Chapados said. “I’m not worried about the responsible citizen. I’m worried about the loose cannon or the person that just is in the wrong place at the wrong time and becomes a victim of circumstance.”

Councilmember Bridger Kimball, whose business sells guns and trains people to use them, told council members at a December work session that Arizona is a constitutional carry state, where anyone at least 21 years old can buy and carry a gun.

He said the Department of Public Safety’s concealed weapons permitting system requires a background check and a signature from an instructor certified by the National Rifle Association, but does not specify training.

“If people had the means to protect themselves after 911 was called, then I think we’d be a lot safer,” Kimball told council members Jan. 19.

Councilmember Nancy Smith said she was disappointed in the lack of desire at the state level to demand training for those seeking concealed weapons permits.

A concealed-weapon holster is demonstrated by John Callaway II, owner of Arizona Law Dawgs. Maricopa City Council has been discussing in work sessions the viability of allowed concealed carry on city property. Photo by Adam Wolfe
A concealed-weapon holster is demonstrated by John Callaway II, owner of Arizona Law Dawgs. Maricopa City Council has been discussing in work sessions the viability of allowed concealed carry on city property. Photo by Adam Wolfe

“At this point, knowing how much training they get or are required to take, I’m not confident that a concealed weapon carrier is going to know what to do when the police arrive,” she said.

Mayor Christian Price is a concealed weapons permit holder. He said it would be great if there were more training, but that’s not the reality.

“A safe environment is completely subjective,” he said, whether a person feels safer with a gun or without.

Councilmember Henry Wade said he’s a gun owner himself. His 14-year-old nephew was killed by firearms in Los Angeles, he said, giving him and his family a different view on guns.

“When we’re having this discussion, we have to have that empty seat in the room for the person that’s not here, because no one is there to speak up for them,” he said, noting that whatever decision is made will impact all residents, not just those who have been emailing council members.

“I have concerns about allowing anyone in a public space with a weapon.”

Side-by-side view of how a holster in the small of the back is easily out of sight. Photos by Adam Wolfe
Side-by-side view of how a holster in the small of the back is easily out of sight. Photos by Adam Wolfe

This story appeared in the February issue of InMaricopa News.