When I last reported on this topic, I told you that the trend toward reducing the legislative restrictions on possession of firearms seemed to have abated somewhat in the last session of the Arizona Legislature. If the proposed legislation introduced at the beginning of this year’s session is any indication, however, that trend has resumed. The twist is that the proposed legislation would place new regulatory compliance and potential liability on property owners and business operators who wish to control the presence of firearms on their premises.
One of the proposals would add the following new law:
This state or any agency or political subdivision of this state or any person, organization or entity that establishes a gun-free zone is liable for damages that result from criminal conduct that occurs against an individual in the gun-free zone if a reasonable person would believe that possession of a firearm could have helped the individual defend against the criminal conduct. If the criminal conduct was the result of terrorism or adversely affected a child under sixteen years of age or a person seventy years of age or older, this state or any agency or political subdivision of this state or any person, organization or entity that establishes a gun-free zone is liable for treble damages.
“Gun-Free Zone” is defined in the proposed legislation as “any building, place, area or curtilage or in or on any conveyance in which a person’s right or ability to possess a firearm is infringed, restricted or diminished in any way by statute, policy, rule, regulation, ordinance, utterance or posted sign.” Curtilage is a legal term that refers to the grounds immediately around, and used with, a building.
This proposal would change the rules for a property owner who excludes from his or her property any person carrying a firearm. My interpretation of current law is that even if the property is open to the public, the property owner can give notice that the entire property is an area where public entry is not authorized as to persons carrying firearms, effectively prohibiting entry of the property by anyone carrying a firearm. If the above proposal becomes law, a property owner could still prohibit possession of firearms in the manner I have suggested. By doing so, however, the property owner would expose himself or herself to claims for damages resulting from criminal conduct on the premises “if a reasonable person would believe that possession of a firearm could have helped the individual [who is injured by the criminal conduct] defend against the criminal conduct.” If the person injured by the criminal conduct is under sixteen or over seventy years of age, or if the criminal conduct was the result of “terrorism” (a term that is not defined in the legislation), then the property owner would be liable for three times the damages suffered.
The second piece of proposed legislation is apparently more straightforward in its application, if rather cumbersome to explain. It would affect only one particular category of commercial properties, namely restaurants that have liquor licenses. Under prior law, it was illegal to be in possession of a firearm while on the premises of any establishment that has a retail liquor license including restaurants. That prohibition has recently been narrowed to exclude persons who are on the premises for a limited time in order to seek emergency aid, and to exclude persons who are unaware that such possession is prohibited (which probably effectively means that the owner of any establishment that has a retail liquor license must post a notice that firearms are prohibited if they want to keep guns out).
The new proposed legislation would further narrow the law against carrying a gun into a licensed retail liquor establishment by making that law inapplicable as to restaurant patrons carrying guns unless the restaurant posts a notice that firearms may not be carried in the restaurant. The notice would have to be posted either within twenty feet of each cash register, or behind the bar (sounds kind of “Old West,” doesn’t it?), would have to be of a specified minimum size and typeface, and would have to read:
NOTICE: PURSUANT TO SECTIONS 4-244 AND 2-244.01, ARIZONA REVISED STATUTES, A PERSON MAY NOT CARRY A FIREARM IN THIS RESTAURANT.
The new law would also give the restaurant the option of restricting the carrying of handguns in the restaurant to persons licensed to carry concealed handguns:
NOTICE: UNLESS LICENSED PURSUANT TO SECTION 13-3112, ARIZONA REVISED STATUTES, A PERSON MAY NOT CARRY A FIREARM IN THIS RESTAURANT.
Arizona law still prohibits carrying a concealed deadly weapon unless a permit has been obtained. Without such a permit, it is illegal to carry a concealed deadly weapon except on a person’s own property. It is also illegal for a person to enter a public establishment or attend a public event carrying a deadly weapon (concealed or not) if the person is asked to check his weapon at the door. “Public establishment” and “public event” are defined for this purpose as government operated or sponsored places or events, including private events conducted with a government permit.
The subject of the presence of firearms in our society is still very politically sensitive. The public dialogue seems more focused on esoteric questions of Constitutional interpretation than on more practical questions about the presence of firearms in public places and the extent to which private property owners whose property is open to the public can legally control the presence of firearms on their property. If the proposed legislation discussed above is enacted, however, the discussion may become much more focused on the practical aspects of the presence of firearms, and in a way that will not bode well for owners of property that is open to the public.