A $1,000 Punishment for Gun Owners Who Were Victims?

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posted on May 15, 2024
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A scheme by city leaders in Pima County, Ariz., to slap $1,000 fines on residents who fail to report a lost or stolen firearm to the government within two days is facing a court challenge.

Late last month, the Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit, on behalf of Air Force veteran Chris King and the Pima County-based Arizona Citizens Defense League, to stop enforcement of the fine.

Under the ordinance, lawful gun owners who have their firearms stolen would be forced to be victimized a second time by the county if they don’t report the loss quickly enough. That, in essence, punishes the victim for the theft.

“The new reporting ordinance isn’t just illegal—it takes aim at the wrong people,” Parker Jackson, Goldwater staff attorney, wrote in a press release announcing the lawsuit. “Rather than target criminals who steal firearms, the new requirement revictimizes law-abiding gun owners who experience the loss or theft of a firearm. Some may not even realize they are victims until much later.”

According to the complaint in Arizona Citizens Defense League v. Pima County: “State law does not impose a penalty on firearm owners who do not report the loss or theft of a firearm to local authorities. The Ordinance, however, imposes a substantial penalty. The Arizona Attorney General has found that where ‘Arizona state law does not … establish any penalty for a failure to report the loss or theft of a firearm,’ and an ordinance imposes a civil infraction and fines, it ‘is greater than any state law penalty and brings [the ordinance] directly into conflict with § 13-3108(D).’”

Plaintiff Chris King said the mandate would have made a criminal out of him when his apartment was broken into and one of his guns was stolen.

“When my apartment was burglarized, both my wife and I were on active-duty out of state, and I didn’t even discover my firearm had been stolen until a week later,” said King, who is also an NRA-certified firearms instructor. “We’re a nation of laws, and Arizona law clearly prohibits local governments from imposing regulations contradictory to the laws of this state. Why do Pima County officials think they’re above the law?”

In fact, according to the Goldwater Institute, public records reveal the board has been gearing up for this fight for years by coordinating with activist groups, attorneys, and other elected officials to undermine Arizona’s broad protections for the right to keep and bear arms.

Pima County officials have been so dead set on making their own gun laws that, in 2022, the board of supervisors even considered a resolution to challenge Arizona’s preemption statute.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first time municipal or county officials have tried to pass such an ordinance. In 2013, the city of Tucson passed an ordinance with almost identical provisions, and the Arizona attorney general declared it to be preempted and unlawful. Since then, Arizona courts have reiterated that firearms regulation is a matter of statewide concern and have limited the ability of cities and counties to add regulations beyond any enacted by the state legislature.

According to the Goldwater Institute, the Pima County Attorney’s Office and members of the public notified the board of the legal deficiencies of the proposal before it passed the ordinance. Additionally, a majority of the board made comments prior to passage of the ordinance recognizing that firearms regulations belong at the state level. Four of the five supervisors voted for it anyway, ignoring these problems and related concerns raised by the lone dissenter, Supervisor Steve Christy.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the reporting mandate are asking the court to declare that state law preempts the new Pima County ordinance, thereby rendering it null and void and to issue an injunction enjoining the county from implementing or enforcing the ordinance.

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