City plans to install gun lockers
Activist forces action on law covering guns, public areas.
Written By Joe Burchell
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
City librarians soon could be checking in more than just books.
A change in state law requires the city to let people carry guns into public buildings, on buses and at public events unless a safe place to check them is provided.
City officials now have to provide secure lock-ups at libraries, neighborhood centers and offices where guns were prohibited by city regulation.
The city generally ignored the new law, which took effect in July, until gun activist Ken Rineer challenged them last month.
Police Capt. John Leavitt said he plans to install gun lockers in as many as five downtown city buildings, which he hopes will be enough to satisfy the law without having to install them in all downtown buildings.
Leavitt said he hasn't started to look at the gun storage needs of dozens of city buildings outside downtown, where the law also applies.
"Every local government in the state is struggling with how to comply with this," said Assistant City Attorney Dave Deibel.
While the city has no choice but to comply with the law in public buildings, lawyers are investigating whether federal transportation regulations can be used to keep guns off SunTran buses.
Pima County doesn't actively seek to relieve people of their guns in its buildings, including those adjacent to the city's buildings downtown, though a technical ban is in place.
"Historically, it hasn't been a problem," said County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry.
The ban only takes effect if a "No Weapons" sign is posted, and that's only in the Superior Court building, Huckelberry said.
One thing activist Rineer and Tucson officials agree on is that they'd like to avoid the protests that have taken place in Glendale and elsewhere in Maricopa County.
With no secure weapons storage in most public buildings, workers have been calling police when a gun-carrying citizen seeks admission. They make the citizen wait for an officer to come hold the weapon.
Deibel said police aren't happy with the arrangement because it takes time away from their other responsibilities.
Gun owners aren't happy, either. They're being treated like criminals, Rineer said.
In addition to the wait, they must fill out a long form about themselves and their gun - de facto gun registration, Rineer said - and on occasion, they are frisked.
Then, when they're ready to leave, he said, police refuse to return the gun. They must pick it up at the police station instead.
Rineer said the Maricopa County procedures prompted him to run a test in Tucson: He showed up at a City Council meeting with his gun last month.
Capt. Leavitt checked Rineer's gun and returned it to him when he left after delivering a statement to the council.
A four-page opinion by City Attorney Michael House, in response to a complaint by Rineer, confirms that the city must allow guns in public buildings and at public events unless secure storage is provided.
House said that, while every building doesn't have to have a locker, buildings that share a locker must be in close proximity.
Leavitt said gun storage lockers in every building would be expensive-$1,000 plus installation for one with six individual cabinets. Plus, they have to be in a place where they're visible but not an easy target for thieves, and that's difficult in some buildings.
He said he's concentrating on downtown and working with Rineer to pick locations to get a feel for how the system might work elsewhere.
"If we can involve the gun-owning public in designing the system, we may not have to do all the buildings," Leavitt said.
He said lockers will be installed at the Main Library, City Hall and probably City Court, Police Department headquarters and the Tucson Convention Center.
Library Director Agnes Griffen said that still leaves most of her 20 library branches with no place to store guns and no procedure for what to do if someone shows up wearing one.
Even if she had a place to put them, Griffen said, she doesn't want her staff to handle other people's guns.
"It's not safe. What if a gun goes off while a librarian is handling it?" she asked.
Leavitt said that's why police don't want city employees from any department handling guns.
"We couldn't provide proper training to everyone who might have to handle someone else's weapon," Leavitt said.
Rineer said he believes the city should just open most public buildings to people who are legally carrying weapons. If they won't do that, he said, the city needs to come into full compliance with the law as quickly as possible.
Rineer said he recognizes there are costs and logistical problems to work out, so he has no plans to force the issue as long as the city is making a sincere effort to comply. But he said he doesn't know how long that patience will last.
He said one way to solve the city's problem might be to drop the ban on
guns in public buildings "where it really doesn't matter," like libraries and the Tucson Water building.
But the suggestion of allowing guns in libraries sets off howls among city officials.
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