The Arizona House voted Thursday to make the state the third in the nation to allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit, sending the governor a bill that would allow Arizonans to forego background checks and classes that are now required.
The legislation, approved by the House 36-19 without discussion, would make it legal for most U.S. citizens 21 or older to carry a concealed weapon in Arizona without the permit now required. Currently, carrying a hidden firearm without a permit is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
Sen. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican who sponsored the measure, said last week that he added changes requested by Gov. Jan Brewer's office, an indication that she is likely to sign it. The governor can sign or veto the measure, or allow it to become law without action.
If the legislation is enacted, Arizona would join Alaska and Vermont in not requiring permits to carry concealed weapons. Forty-five other states require permits for hidden guns, and two states — Illinois and Wisconsin — prohibit them altogether.
Supporters say gun restrictions only affect people who want to follow the rules because criminals will carry hidden guns regardless of the law. Nearly all adults can carry a weapon openly in Arizona, and they shouldn't face additional restrictions when they want to hide the weapon, supporters argue.
"What's dangerous is when they're in criminals' hands, not citizens' hands," said Rep. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, a bill sponsor.
Opponents argue legalizing concealed weapons will make it easier for criminals to carry them, endangering police. They also worry the bill would lead to more accidental gun discharges by people not adequately trained in firearm safety.
"We wouldn't give people driver's licenses without requiring training or testing. Why would we give people the ability to carry a concealed weapon anywhere?" said Rep. Steve Farley, D-Tucson.
There are more than 154,000 active concealed weapon permits in Arizona.
Under the measure, Arizonans would still be subject to the background checks federal law requires when buying firearms from a store. People carrying a concealed weapon would be required to tell a police officer if asked, and the officer could temporarily take the weapon while communicating with the gun carrier.
Under the legislation, permits still could be obtained on an optional basis so Arizonans could carry concealed weapons in states with reciprocity agreements. Permits also would be required to carry weapons in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.
With the elevation of Brewer to the governor's office, Arizona gun-rights advocates have had a wave of success over the past two years.
The state in 2009 loosened its gun laws to lift a ban on guns in establishments that serve alcohol, although gun-bearers still cannot drink alcohol and establishments can ban firearms.
Brewer, a Republican who took office in January 2009, signed that measure into law. Her predecessor, Democrat Janet Napolitano, vetoed several measures pushed by gun-rights supporters before resigning to run the U.S. Homeland Security Department.
On Monday, Brewer signed two bills loosening gun restrictions. One bill broadened the state's current restrictions on local governments' ability to regulate or tax guns and ammunition.
The other bill declares that guns manufactured entirely in Arizona are exempt from federal oversight and are not subject to federal laws restricting the sale of firearms or requiring them to be registered.
Associated Press writer Paul Davenport contributed to this report.
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