A top Senate Democrat is walking back statements he made during debate that a proposed new law will allow Arizonans to own everything from silencers to automatic weapons and hand grenades.
It turns out they already can have them -- if you comply with existing federal laws.
In a floor speech earlier this week, Sen. Steve Farley of Tucson, the assistant minority leader, urged colleagues to defeat HB 2446. Farley said he read the measure to essentially forfeit to the federal government the right to decide what weapons Arizonans can possess.
"We're talking about bombs, grenades, rockets having a propellant charge of more than four ounces and that is explosive, and incendiary or poison gas,' Farley argued. And he said the measure also would legalize silencers, automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns.
Farley said he "misread' the briefing he got from staffers on the effect of the legislation.
"It looks like it's ultimately a technical change that aligns (Arizona law) more closely with federal law,' he said.
That's also the assessment of Todd Rathner. He lobbies for the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol
Association, the local affiliate of the National Rifle Association.
He said current state law refers to weapons that are "registered in the national firearms registry' maintained by the Treasury Department.
"The reason we're changing the law is the registry and transfer records are now maintained by the Department of Justice, not the Treasury Department,' he said. "So this is really a pretty boring technical correction.'
As far as things like sawed-off shotguns, automatic rifles and suppressors -- the formal name for what are commonly called silencers -- Rathner said they're already in Arizona. It's just that those who want them have to jump through some more hoops than are necessary just to buy a regular handgun, rifle or shotgun.
And Charles Heller, one of the founders of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, said that's just the beginning of what Arizonans already can legally have.
"It could be a tank with a cannon on it,' said Heller, who now heads Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.
"You can own anything you want,' he continued. "You can own a fighter plane with machine guns on it.'
But be prepared to come under some government scrutiny. And be prepared to be patient.
It starts with the purchase, at least on paper. Both Rathner and Heller said most dealers will want their money up front.
Then there's the application process which includes a form, a fingerprint card and some photos. Those are submitted to what the federal government considers the "chief law enforcement officer' for the area.
Rathner said federal law has some wiggle room. So, for example, someone living in Tucson could seek permission from the police chief, the county sheriff or even the county attorney.
They certify two things: that the weapon being sought is not illegal under state law and that there is no reason to believe that the person seeking the weapon is a "prohibited possessor' under the law.
Rathner said that can take 30 to 60 days, depending on the agency.
But it also can take less: He said the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office provides same-day certification.
All that, along with a $200 check, is then sent to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Heller said it could take nine months for a "deep background check.'
And if everything checks out, ATF sends a tax stamp for the weapon to the dealer.
"Once your dealer says, 'Your stamp came in,' you drop the phone yelling and screaming, you run to the car, and you (rush) down to the gun shop -- and you fill out another set of forms,' Heller said. "And you pick up your gun.'
He said the procedure is the same for suppressors.
Farley said he now understands the process.
But that doesn't mean he's totally convinced that the legislation is a good idea. More to the point, he's not sure that Arizona's standards for what is legal should simply default to the federal government.
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