The passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June signifies the first piece of federal legislation concerning gun safety in 30 years, but Arizona still has an uphill climb ahead, thanks to stonewalling from GOP legislators.
Under the new law, Arizona will receive a fraction of the $15 billion available to improve school security and pay for mental health initiatives. The law also makes available $750 million to 19 states and the District of Columbia in order to help further strengthen red flag laws. The common term for a range of laws that authorize police, family members, or loved ones to petition state courts to temporarily remove firearms from a person deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.
Unfortunately, Arizona will not be left out of this additional funding because the Republican-led legislature has failed to pass red flag law in the Grand Canyon state. The majority of Americans support red flag laws, according to an APM survey. About 77 percent of Americans support family-initiated extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) while 70 percent support law enforcement-initiated ERPOs. Despite their popularity and Arizona Democrats pushing for their implementation, Republican legislators have been pushing back and staving progress.
Heading into the November elections, Arizona voters have an opportunity to elect legislators who support red flag laws and increased gun safety legislation.
In Arizona’s 4th Legislative District, Senate candidate Christine Marsh (D) supports expanding background checks at gun shows, according to Vote Smart. Marsh also believes a license should be required for gun ownership and teachers should not be allowed to bring guns into the classroom, even after passing gun safety training.
Her opponent, Republican state Senator Nancy Barto, opposes red flag laws and expanding background checks to include guns purchased by private individuals. After Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 people were shot in 2011, Barto refused to even allow a bill to be read aimed at increasing mental health awareness in the Arizona Senate. In 2020, Barto received a 92 percent rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Arizona’s 9th Legislative District, where voters will elect two representatives to the state house, Republican candidates Kathy Pearce and Mary Ann Mendoza are both opposed to increasing gun safety regulation. Pearce opposes expanding background checks and “all gun confiscation schemes and unconstitutional red flag laws.” Mendoza, in her words, supports the Second Amendment as it is written, and she has shared her thoughts on gun control on social media: “We’re not seeing reasons for ‘gun control,’” Mendoza said on Instagram. “We’re seeing reasons to carry.”
Conversely, one of the candidates running on the Democratic side, Seth Blattman, received an endorsement from Moms Demand Action as a Gun Sense Candidate for 2022.
In competition for state Senate in the 9th district, GOP candidate Robert Scantlebury also shares Arizona Republicans’ sentiment of opposing even modest expansions on background checks. Scantlebury received an AQ rating from the NRA, the highest possible ranking for a non-incumbent candidate, according to the NRA Political Victory Fund.
Jennifer Pawlik (D) is running for one of two available House of Representative seats in Arizona’s 13th district, and her campaign has brought gun safety issues to the table: “Our children deserve to learn in a safe environment and as adults, we owe it to them to provide this and have a constructive, respectful discussion about guns and school safety,” Pawlik says on her campaign website. She supports the Second Amendment while advocating for stronger background checks and “implementing common sense measures to improve school security and protect our communities from gun violence.”
Shannon Frattaroli, who directs the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, says, “There’s so much important work that needs to be done in order to really take advantage of the preventive potential of these red flag laws,” and noted that the new $750 million gun safety bill has “tremendous potential” to improve how they’re implemented.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act permits the “use of Byrne grants for the implementation of State crisis intervention programs” and closes the “boyfriend loophole,” expanding restrictions to include domestic violence offenders who have been in a “continuing relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” with their victims (as opposed to current federal law which requires the offender to be living with, married to, or have a child with their partner). Other provisions include “expansion of community mental health services demonstration program” and “supporting access to health care services in schools.”
“It’s a sizable investment,” said Frattaroli. “I’m eager to watch how those grants are awarded and what states and localities do with that money.”
If Democrats successfully turn the tide in their favor during the midterm elections, Arizona will have leaders in office who will be committed to reducing gun violence and establishing laws that protect citizens across the state.