In Rabidly Pro-Second Amendment Arizona, State Lawmaker Pushes for Gun Background Checks

Arizona legislators have made a name for themselves nationally with their creative, seemingly endless ideas for expanding access to firearms (including a proposal this year to offer a tax credit to those who obtain a license to carry a concealed weapon). But there are also a few bills on the table with the opposite goal.

State Representative Randall Friese (D-Tucson) is leading the liberal charge with a proposal to make it illegal to sell a gun without running a background check on the buyer.

The federal government already requires people who make their living selling firearms to run a background check before making a sale, but hobbyists and collectors who sell or trade only a few guns a year are exempt.

House Bill 2091, similar to a measure recently pushed through by popular vote in Washington, would require casual sellers to work with licensed dealers to check buyers’ backgrounds before handing over a gun.

In Arizona, felons, certain domestic abusers, undocumented immigrants, and some people with a history of mental illness are prohibited from owning firearms. But the laws are hard to enforce, Friese said, because it’s easy to find a casual seller online or at a gun show and skip the scrutiny.

Roughly 34 percent of the people who purchased their most recent gun did not go through a background check, according to Deborah Azrael, a researcher with Harvard University’s Injury Control Research Center, citing a recent survey of 2,072 gun owners. Of those who obtained their guns as a gift, an inheritance, or a swap between friends, the same was true for about 75 percent, she told The Trace.

“We need to make it more difficult for someone who is prohibited from having a weapon from getting a weapon,” Friese said. “You shouldn’t be able to go online and say, ‘Meet me in the parking lot. I’ll sell you a gun.'”

Friese also is co-sponsoring a bill in the Arizona Senate with Senator David Bradley that tightens firearm restrictions for those accused or convicted of domestic violence. Under the new law, among other things, when someone is placed on probation for a domestic-violence offense, the state would be required to confiscate his or her firearms for the duration.

In the current political climate, Friese said, he almost has no hope the bills will even get a full hearing at the Legislature, let alone pass. He introduced an identical background check bill last year, but it wasn’t assigned to a committee until the last day of the session. It, like many ideas unpopular with Republicans, died when legislators ran out of time and shut down the session.

Still, he said, he felt obligated to raise the issue.

A trauma surgeon by profession, Friese said he is frequently charged with caring for men, women, and children who have been shot. Each time he meets a small child who accidentally shot himself while playing or a teenager who got caught in the crossfire during a gang fight, he is overcome with the need to “do more,” he said.

At the very least, he said, he would like to see the big players from both sides of the debate talk. So anticipating that universal background checks won’t gather traction, he also has proposed a bill that would form a “public safety and violence-prevention study committee” that would bring together the media, law enforcement leaders, and mental-health providers, as 

Friese’s disregard for Arizonans' Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is a “violation of his oath of office.” — Charles Heller, Citizen’s Defense League president

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well as gun-control advocates and gun rights experts.

“I believe gun violence is a public health problem so we need to address it as a public health problem,” he said. “It’s going to require a multifaceted solution.”

Gerry Hills, founder of the gun-control advocacy group Arizonans for Gun Safety, praised Friese for starting the conversation about gun violence despite the “extremist, polarized” demeanor of the Legislature.

“We need to keep focus on this issue,” she said. “Strengthening background checks will save lives.”

Charles Heller, president of the pro-gun Arizona Citizen’s Defense League, however, condemned Friese’s proposals — including his idea to gather stakeholders to form a public-safety committee.

Heller said Friese’s disregard for Arizonans'  Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is a “violation of his oath of office.”

“He’s trying to turn an enumerated, constitutionally recognized right into a privilege,” he said, adding that, “We don’t need the government to protect us from ourselves.” 
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Elizabeth Stuart
Contact: Elizabeth Stuart