Tuesday, April 17, 2012
By William Fisher
Arizona is apparently eager to double down on its reputation for having the nation’s loosest gun control laws. Awaiting the signature of Republican Gov. Jan Brewer is a bill that would allow firearms in public buildings such as libraries and swimming pools.
The legislation was introduced by a Republican legislature in the wake of the shooting of former U.S. Rep. Kathy Giffords last January. Jared Lee Loughner has been charged with the shooting, which left six people dead, including a Federal Judge and a nine year-old child.
Rep. Giffords, who was shot in the head, continues to make an amazing recovery, but was nonetheless obliged to resign her Congressional seat.
Proponents of the bill say that allowing law-abiding citizens greater freedom to carry firearms will deter criminals. Deterrence is a consistent defense put out by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to justify its emasculation of gun control.
Maricopa County (Phoenix) Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox told the local press, "I know people say with this law, it allows good guys to be armed, too, but to me that's crazy." She and others have also questioned the cost of implementing the new law.
The bill has an opt-out provision to allow cities and counties to opt out of the law, and keep firearms out of public buildings. But those opting out would be required to increase security at public buildings, including a metal detector, gun lockers, and two armed guards for each public entrance.
It is unclear that the bill’s sponsors have calculated the cost of implementing the measure. Officials have estimated that it would cost Maricopa County, which has 111 public buildings, $11 million for the new equipment and $20 million to add new guard staff.
Under current Arizona gun control law, it is illegal to carry a firearm on or near school grounds or within public buildings. The ban on guns near schools would remain unchanged.
In a related development, a disciplinary panel convened by the Arizona Supreme Court last week repeatedly found evidence of ethical misconduct -- even criminal acts -- that it said merited disbarment for Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas and one of his former lieutenants, former Deputy County Attorney Lisa Aubuchon. The law license of former Deputy County Attorney Rachel Alexander was suspended for six months.
The attorneys had filed lawsuits accusing County officials of widespread corruption.
It is rare for the activities of an elected prosecutor to be subjected to such harsh scrutiny. Legal experts are hailing the case as a model for how to hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct.
"This case is one of those few cases where the disciplinary mechanism worked -- and worked in a dramatic and powerful way," said Bennett Gershman, a Pace University law professor and an expert on prosecutorial misconduct. "This is a huge victory for good-government people and people who believe that prosecutors should be accountable for misconduct."
The sanctions are to take effect May 10, but at least two of the three prosecutors are likely to appeal, according to their lawyers, and they can ask for the sanctions to be stayed until their appeals are heard. Disbarment would strip them of their ability to practice law in Arizona and could hinder their ability to practice in other states.
Only Thomas would not indicate Tuesday whether he would appeal, but he called his disbarment "a political witch hunt."
In yet another Arizona development, the Brady Campaign, which backs strong gun control measures, annually assigns up to a total of 100 points for each state's gun laws. Arizona received its lowest ranking this year.
The Brady report says Arizona earned a six the first two years of the rankings, but only a two last year. They lost two points this time around because there is no longer a requirement that people have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
The number of points given varies by topic. The greater the public benefit the group perceives, the higher the points. There were 17 points possible for requiring background checks for all firearms, 7 points for requiring background checks at gun shows, 5 points for selling childproof locks with all handguns, and 2 points for not forcing employers to allow guns in their parking lots.
California received the highest ranking in the U.S. -- 80 points. Arizona earned zero
But firearm enthusiasts tend to turn the Brady scores on their heads, i.e. the losing states that Brady says have the weakest gun control laws are hailed as winners, while winning gun-control states like California are dubbed “the worst of the worst.”
In a related development, Amnesty International is accusing Arizona of violating international law by improperly using "cruel isolation" for non-violent or mentally ill inmates and depriving them of basic physical and mental health care.
In a report, the human rights organization said that of the more than 2,900 inmates being held in Arizona's maximum-security facilities, more than 2,000 are confined by themselves in windowless cells 22 to 24 hours a day. They suffer sensory deprivation with little access to natural light and receive no work, educational or rehabilitation programs, the group charged.
Amnesty said that Arizona's isolation system has led some inmates o commit suicide, caused depression and anxiety and worsened pre-existing mental illnesses.
The groups issued several recommendations for the Corrections Department and Gov. Jan Brewer. They include: Reducing the number of prisoners in isolation; improving conditions in the isolation units; removing prisoners with serious mental illness from the units; taking suicide-prevention measures; and barring children under 18 from being held in solitary confinement.