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.
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.
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.
“I would not want to sit here and enable something that happened that went horribly wrong.” – Councilmember Peggy Chapados
“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.
“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.”
This story appeared in the February issue of InMaricopa News.