The Tucson City Council is expected to vote Feb. 5 to require background checks on all gun purchases on city-owned or -managed property - even if it means triggering a fight with the Legislature.
Councilman Steve Kozachik's proposal apparently has the four council votes it will need for approval.
"Our responsibility as a governing body is to protect the safety of the public. If the state wants to challenge our requiring background checks in court, they'll lose it both legally, and they'll lose it in the court of public opinion," Kozachik said. "If that's the fight they want to have, I'm saying bring it on."
State law prohibits cities from passing gun laws stricter than state statutes. But Kozachik said curtailing unregulated gun sales is different from passing an ordinance prohibiting guns in a public park or other restrictive measures. He said preventing cities from requiring background checks is tantamount to endorsing a potential criminal act.
"The state cannot force us to sanction a transaction that may result in somebody buying a gun who is not legally authorized to have it.
"In a person-to-person sale," he said, "the only way to discover the legality is to do a background check."
Requiring the checks on city-controlled property, such as the Tucson Convention Center, is not a gun ordinance more restrictive than state law; it is simply making sure transactions are legal, Kozachik said.
Fellow Councilman Paul Cunningham said he doesn't understand why someone would oppose the idea.
"It is really difficult for me to believe that requiring background checks is bad policy," Cunningham said. "By advocating the avoidance of background checks, you are effectively advocating for violent crime."
Although the Legislature has a history of thwarting Tucson City Council attempts at gun control, Councilwoman Karin Uhlich said the courts have sided with the city in the past. "I think we have firm legal standing," said Uhlich, who also supports Kozachik's measure.
"And it's also keeping with what I hear from people in Tucson, which is until there's comprehensive and meaningful action taken at the federal level, they'd like to see us do everything we can to reinforce the goal of better background checks on gun sales."
The three other members of Tucson's all-Democrat City Council - Regina Romero, Richard Fimbres and Shirley Scott - would not comment Tuesday on whether they will vote in favor of the measure. Mayor Jonathan Rothschild was out of town and couldn't be reached, but Kozachik said Rothschild has told him he supports it.
If it does pass, the city can expect opposition from gun-rights advocates.
Charles Heller, communications director for the Arizona Citizens Defense League, said Tucson's latest attempt to circumvent state law exemplifies why the Legislature needs to continually tighten its gun laws.
"Pre-emption was written in direct response to the malfeasance of the Tucson City Council," Heller said. And now "they're attempting to abridge a fundamental civil right. They're attempting to abridge commerce. It's a basic constitutional right. You have a right to contract."
Heller said the ordinance would succeed only in suppressing the rights of law-abiding citizens and accomplish little in the way of keeping guns out of the hands of criminals.
Rather than sue, Heller said his group most likely will tackle the issue at the state Capitol.
"We are not going to roll over," Heller said. "So far, two governors have signed 27 Arizona Citizens Defense League bills in the last seven years. Our track record is a lot better than the city of Tucson as far as victories at the state Legislature are concerned."
State Rep. Ethan Orr, R-Tucson, said if each municipality passed its own gun laws, it could place otherwise law-abiding citizens in legal jeopardy just for driving from one city to the next with firearms in their vehicles. And that's why it's important to maintain uniform gun laws across the state.
"Once you open that can of worms … it could turn into a hodgepodge of chaos," Orr said.
On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Tucson, said she supports the City Council's efforts. She said this wouldn't be an issue at the Legislature if some members practiced what they preached.
"It always appalls me that some of the biggest opponents of mandates and preemption from the federal government are those that want to put mandates and pre-emption on local governments in here in Arizona," Lopez said. "Cities and towns really know best what their city and citizens want and need."
Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4243.