Arizona Capitol

Lemons: Bills Gutting Shannon's Law Get Help from Nutty Neuroscientist, Right-Wing Ex-Sheriff

State Representative Jay Lawrence, sponsor of HB 2022, the "snake shot/rat shot" bill.
Stephen Lemons
State Representative Jay Lawrence, sponsor of HB 2022, the "snake shot/rat shot" bill.
Republican legislators cannot go wrong pandering to gun crazies in this state, no matter how full of bat guano their legislative proposals are.

Granted, Arizona's fervent pro-Second Amendment climate forces politicians to get creative in their bill-writing.

Ours is a state where you can carry concealed without a permit, avoid a Brady check by buying a firearm at a gun show, and carry your AR-15 to the airport, like that nutty brain scientist Peter Nathan Steinmetz did at Sky Harbor a couple of years back.

Actually, in Sand Land, the likes of Steinmetz and uber-right wing ex-Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack pass for legit pro-gun experts.

Republican state Representative Jay Lawrence practically cooed over Mack when introducing him to the House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on January 18. Mack spoke on behalf of Lawrence's bill, HB 2022, one of a couple of exceptions to Shannon's Law that GOPers are running this session.

On that same day, Steinmetz spoke on the bill's behalf just before Mack, but Lawrence didn't coo as much over him. As I'll explain further on, there are plenty of good reasons neither man should have been testifying about anything before the state legislature.

Um, unless the subject is wingnuttery in America.

In case you're unfamiliar with Shannon's Law, the legislation makes it a felony to shoot off a gun within a municipality, as people used to do far more often in urban areas before it was passed in 2000, as a means of curbing so-called "celebratory gunfire."
click to enlarge Edie Smith, aunt of Shannon Smith, the 14 year-old girl killed by a falling bullet, for whom Shannon's Law is named. - STEPHEN LEMONS
Edie Smith, aunt of Shannon Smith, the 14 year-old girl killed by a falling bullet, for whom Shannon's Law is named.
Stephen Lemons

The statute was inspired by the 1999 death of 14-year-old Phoenix resident Shannon Smith by a falling bullet. It includes several exceptions already, including defending yourself or others against an animal attack.

Lord knows how Shannon's Law passed in this state. I can only reckon that at the time, legislators must have been infected with this rare affliction known as common sense, of which they've since been cured.

Which brings us to Lawrence's bill, which would carve out an exception for what's called "snake shot" or "rat shot," fired from a .22 pistol, supposedly at a rat or snake.

But as Lawrence has made clear on several occasions, the legislation does not mention the slaying of animals, and allows gun owners to fire rat shot in their backyards for any dang reason they want.

Supporters of the bill concede that the rat shot fired from a .22 sounds about the same as a bullet fired from the same pistol, and will result in 911 calls to police.

Not that the cops have anything more important to do. Plus, if HB 2022 becomes law, it should confuse the hell out of first responders when New Year's Eve comes around again.

Because if you want to fire rat shot in the air on New Year's Eve, you'll legally be able to under Lawrence's legislation. If you want to shoot off a gun, you could always just say you were shooting at a snake with some rat shot when the po-po come knocking on your door.

Better yet, you could just claim that you shot your real gun, but it was an accident. Oops!

Such would be the result of another bill looking to curtail Shannon's Law: HB 2287, sponsored by state Representative Tony Rivero, a Republican, natch.

Rivero's bill is a beaut. It would change the standard Shannon's Law is prosecuted under, going from "criminal negligence" to "intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly," which is a higher bar. So, hypothetically, you could claim that you were cleaning your gun and it went off by accident.
click to enlarge Right-wing ex-Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack, testifying in January on behalf of HB 2022. - ARIZONA LEGISLATURE
Right-wing ex-Graham County Sheriff Richard Mack, testifying in January on behalf of HB 2022.
Arizona Legislature

Which, admittedly, happens. I'll also admit, regarding Lawrence's bill, that you could legally shoot blanks under the current statute, and like with the rat shot, it generally would sound like a bullet fired from a pistol.

But that's not the point. There is no rash of accidents being charged as felonies. Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, hardly a piker when it comes to supporting gun rights, claims his office has never prosecuted anyone for an accidental discharge.

And the law largely has been effective, with the Phoenix police reporting a decline of 38 percent in calls concerning New Year's Eve gunfire from 2003 to 2017.

So why these attempts to water down a successful, common-sense law?

That's what I buttonholed Lawrence about outside the state Senate, shortly after his bill was approved Wednesday by the Senate Government Committee on a party line vote.

"It was brought to me by a number of people who are firearms people," Lawrence explained as we walked together. "It's another arrow in the quiver of firearms enthusiasts."

And being that the Second Amendment essentially is a religion in Arizona, where guns are worshiped on par with Yahweh, chipping away at one of the few remaining, logical firearms restrictions on the books is precisely what a Republican like Lawrence is supposed to do.

I should mention that I consider Lawrence a friend from before he was in the state House, while he was still a talk-show host on KTAR. An affable, bear-like man, he can regale you with stories of when he hung out with the Beatles in New York long ago, as well as offer unconventional alternatives to calling the fire department if you find a snake in your backyard and don't want to shoot it.

"The next idea is, take a rope and make a loop on the end of broomstick," he told me in mock seriousness. "And walk within striking distance of the snake and pull the rope tight."

He continued, grinning, "The other suggestion is, put your child out 10 feet away [from the snake] and sneak up on the snake from behind."

Clearly, Lawrence is meshugganah. Further proof: his aforementioned use of Steinmetz and Mack as experts, who are also meshugganah, but not as entertaining.

Steinmetz made headlines in 2014 when he strolled into Sky Harbor with his AR-15 to grab a cup of coffee. He was arrested when his rifle allegedly, inadvertently pointed in the direction of a woman and her 17-year-old daughter. (Please see update below.)

The charges were later dropped, with Steinmetz agreeing to a few lax conditions. It wasn't Steinmetz's first go-around. He'd done it before, though he has since told the press that he is not inclined to do it again. He was simply making a political statement. (Please see update below.)

Mack is a more complex piece of work. He advances a legal theory that sheriffs are the highest law-enforcement authority in their jurisdictions, and can arrest federal agents, if need be. He is the head of his own "constitutional sheriffs" group, and was supportive of rancher Cliven Bundy during his family's 2014 standoff in Nevada with the feds.

The ex-sheriff is also known for his high respect for women.

"We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front," Mack told Fox News during the Bundy standoff. "If they are going to start shooting, it's going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers."

At the House hearing last month, Steinmetz testified about how rattlesnakes are dangerous because of the neurotoxins in their venom (no duh, Sherlock). And Mack just generally told committee members that he thought Lawrence's proposed legislation was a swell idea.

Naturally, the bill sailed out of the House committee on a party-line vote, and eventually made it to the House floor, where Lawrence avowed that the rat shot is harmless and jokingly offered to allow himself be shot with it, but said he was afraid there would be too many takers among his colleagues..

Of course, the bill passed the House, and progressed to the Senate, where it was heard Wednesday in committee, and also was voted out with a "do pass" recommendation, despite some vigorous, though ultimately futile, debate.

What about HB 2287, which was heard in the same House committee on Wednesday?

Well what do you think happened? Of course, it passed on yet another party-line vote.

Still, the Republicans seemed to squirm a bit as they were addressed by Edie Smith, the aunt of Shannon Smith, who was on hand to speak for her fallen niece, as both of Shannon's parents have since died.

"Why change something that works," she read from a prepared statement, her voice charged with emotion. "Shannon's Law, as it now exists, has made the Valley and other urban areas in Arizona safer."

She concluded: "Sadly Shannon has become a symbol of the dangers of random gunfire — that a bullet shot in the air comes down somewhere and can injure or kill.

"We don't need any other such symbols."

So true, but in Arizona, our legislature's fetish for firearms trumps all else, even the life of an innocent child.

Update April 14, 2017 8:30 PM:

Mr. Steinmetz contacted me recently, asking for a clarification to this column, arguing that he was never officially charged by the county attorney's office and so the phrase, "[t]he charges were later dropped" was incorrect.

He sent me a copy of a "Pre-Indictment Resolution Offer" on Maricopa County Attorney's Office letterhead, dated November 4, 2014, and signed by Steinmetz, Steinmetz's attorney Marc Victor and Deputy County Attorney Keith Manning.

The document states that,

"The Phoenix Police Department has submitted formal charges to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for two counts of Disorderly Conduct in violation of 13-2904A6. Both counts involve the use of an AR-15 and therefore can be alleged as Dangerous Natural Offenses."

In exchange for a promise by the MCAO "not to file any criminal charges arising out of these two Phoenix Police Department Reports," Steinmetz agrees to a list of terms and conditions, which include not openly carrying a firearm at any of four local airports for two years. You can read the entire document below.

Steinmetz also provided a document from the superior court, noting that he has completed the requirements "of the diversion plan agreed upon," and with no objection from the Phoenix Police Department, grants his petition in part.

"The Clerk shall note on all Court records that Petitioner has been cleared of the offense in question," it states.

This "Order to Clear Record" likewise is provided below.

As for the two proposed laws discussed in the above opinion piece, both later died in the state Senate.

Pre-Indictment Resolution Offer Order to Clear Record