A new Tombstone city ordinance lets staged gunfights resume, but some question whether it violates established state gun laws.
The gunfight performances Tombstone is famous for had been on a hiatus since an accident in October of last year.
During Helldorado Days, one of the city’s largest events, a live round struck an actor from The Tombstone Vigilantes in the groin and a bullet fragment hit a nearby audience member. The actor forgot to check his gun beforehand and load it with blanks, instead of ammunition.
Now, the shows have started up again after the City Council passed a new ordinance regulating the gun shows on Jan. 12.
The key points of the ordinance state that performers must have an armorer load and check all guns with blanks, a physical barrier must be set up between the actors and the audience, and all performing groups must have a $1 million insurance policy.
However, Mike Carrafa, longtime Tombstone resident and owner of Doc Holliday’s Saloon, believes the ordinance violates state laws.
“No municipality can regulate the discharge of a firearm,” Carrafa said.
Marc Victor, a Phoenix-based attorney specializing in gun law, said he also believes the new ordinance infringes on Arizona state gun laws.
Arizona Revised Statute 13-3108 says that a “political subdivision of the state … cannot regulate the discharge or use of firearms or ammunition,” unless relating to hunting or law enforcement.
In May 2013, the Tucson City Council passed two gun ordinances, which then-Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne later said were unenforceable. The first required owners to report a missing gun or face a fine. The second gave police the authority to get a blood-and-alcohol test when a firearm was negligently discharged.
Horne said Statute 13-3108 pre-empted the regulation of firearms at the city level. When the Arizona Legislature passed the statute in 2000, it included a statement that said, “Firearms regulation is of statewide concern. Therefore, the legislature intends to limit the ability of any political subdivision in this state to regulate firearms and ammunition.”
There are currently no challenges to the Tombstone ordinance. Although Victor said if it was challenged, he doesn’t believe it will hold up in state court.
Tombstone Mayor Dusty Escapule believes the new ordinance is legal and said the city has the right to regulate gunfights. He said Tombstone City Attorney Randy Bays and an insurance company attorney approved the legality of the new ordinance.
Bays did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Escapule said the city’s reason for passing the ordinance was to ensure the safety of everyone in Tombstone and has nothing to do with politics.
“I hate to think that it could be one of my kids, grandkids or someone else’s grandkids who got shot on the streets of Tombstone,” Escapule said.
As for concerns over whether the ordinance violates state law, Escapule said: “The sidewalk lawyers just need to be quiet.”
Hannah Palaniuk is a reporter at Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org