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Lawmaker backs off move to weaken Arizona city gunfire law

PHOENIX — Opposition to a bill changing a landmark 2000 law that made random or celebratory gunfire a felony prompted its sponsor to pull the proposal from a House debate schedule Tuesday and promise to substantially weaken his proposal.

Rep. Tony Rivero, R-Peoria, said he now plans to leave in place the current ban on shooting within 1 mile of an occupied structure. His original proposal lowered that to a quarter of a mile but was opposed by police and prosecutor groups.

Rivero said he still wants changes to the legal standard required to prosecute someone for firing a gun inside city or town limits, expressing concern that people can be prosecuted for accidentally shooting their guns.

The Legislature approved the original 2000 law in reaction to the death of 14-year-old Shannon Smith, who was killed by a stray bullet while in the backyard of her Phoenix home. Police agencies routinely highlight the law during New Years’ and July 4th holidays when celebratory gunfire is most common.

Felony convictions are punishable by prison terms of four months to two years and fines of up to $150,000. First-time offenders can be eligible for probation.

“Shannon’s Law was sold after this bad accident happened because someone was recklessly shooting their gun,” Rivero said. “What I’m trying to do is protect citizens, citizens in my district and the state of Arizona who have had accidental discharges and protect them so they’re not prosecuted.”

Rivero said he rescinded his proposal to give him time to continue “educating members on the bill.” Pulling legislation from scheduled debate is often a sign that there are not enough votes for it to be approved.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said last month he was unaware of any prosecutions using the law for accidental discharges. He also said that bullets can travel much farther than a quarter of a mile. He declined additional comment on Tuesday.

Rivero said his changes to House Bill 2287 are intended to mollify opposition from police and prosecutors.

Rivero’s original proposal changed the legal standard for prosecutions from requiring a showing of criminal negligence to “knowingly or recklessly,” a tougher standard to prove. Rivero said he will make changes to that original language but still make it less stringent than the existing legal standard.

“We want to go after the bad guys,” he said. “And I’ve been told with the changes in the law we’ll still be able to go after them.

The proposal is one of several firearms bills introduced in the Legislature, where majority Republicans commonly push bills easing gun laws.

A proposal advancing in the Senate would allow concealed-carry permit holders to carry guns into some public buildings.

The proposal applies to any publicly-owned building that does not have airport-style security, such as a city hall. There are exceptions for courtrooms, federal buildings, high schools and universities, the Maricopa Medical Center and some sports facilities that serve liquor.

Meanwhile, the House has approved a bill allowing small-caliber guns loaded with tiny pellets using cartridges known as rat or snake shot to be fired anywhere within a city or town.

The proposed law would allow anyone to shoot the tiny shotgun shells inside city limits, even if they are not trying to kill a snake or rat.

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