Arizona’s lax laws influence a passionate gun culture

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Clay Wood, an employee at Second Amendment Sports, hangs a rifle on the wall. The outdoor sports store is one of the many places to purchase a weapon in Tucson. Photo by: Brittney Smith/Arizona Sonora News Service

Amber Underdown, 21, loves her Second Amendment rights.

“I come from a family that loves going out and shooting guns, so I feel very close to them when I go out shooting,” Underdown said. “Plus it’s a lot of fun! It’s quite the adrenaline rush.”

Underdown, a Cave Creek native, comes from a long line of gun aficionados. She grew up with guns and says most of her family members enjoy them as well.

The Underdown’s aren’t alone—Arizona has a love affair with guns.

Forty-two gun shows are scheduled in Arizona this year. There is no firearm registry. There is no state permit required to carry openly or concealed a shotgun or rifle unless the carrier is less than 21 years of age. There are a few places that prohibit guns including public schools, polling stations on election days or nuclear generating stations.

In fact, the state has loosened the reins on strict gun laws since the days of the old frontier. The notorious battle at the O.K Corral was due to outlaw cowboys carrying firearms when the city laws did not permit.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) ranks Arizona as No. 4 in the nation for highest levels of gun violence in 2014 The CAP reported 14.6 gun deaths for every 100,000 people in Arizona during 2010. That was 40 percent higher than the 10.3 national average.

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Clay Wood displays a handgun at Second Amendment Sports. The outdoor sports store in Tucson has a variety of guns available for purchase. Photo by: Brittney Smith/Arizona Sonora News Service

A study done by the Behavioral Research Center’s Rocky Mountain Poll states that today, Arizona’s support for stricter firearm laws has decreased from 42 percent in 2013 to 33 percent in 2015.

Charles Heller, the communications coordinator for the Arizona Citizens Defense League, supports the state’s gun laws.

“They are a tool,” Heller said. “If you have a problem you don’t try an limit your tools. Guns are valid and valuable tools. You don’t reduce your tool cabinet when you need to do a project.”

While gun violence holds a high rate in the state, many Arizonans stand by their Second Amendment rights.

“I live alone so it helps me sleep at night knowing I can protect myself because you just can’t count on the police showing up in time,” said Underdown.

Lawmakers in Phoenix think along the same lines. They consistently pass some of the most pro-gun laws in the country.

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“We have the best gun laws in the nation,” said Alan Korwin, owner and operator of the Bloomfield Press in Scottsdale and gunlaws.com. “People who want their freedoms cling to them very tightly and check encroachments on their freedoms. Efforts to deny us rights that we already have are not well received. We are the lynch pin of freedom. Firearms are part of that reason.”

Arizona consistently ranks as the top spot as the best state for gun owners due to its unrestrictive laws, an unprecedented competitive shooting sports culture and Gunsite, the country’s oldest and most well known private shooting school. The Bloomfield Press, the largest publisher and distributer of books on gun laws, ranked Arizona as the No. 1 state for favorable gun laws in 2010.

This year, a number of pro-gun bills have been proposed, including House Bill 2320, which would exempt Arizonans who carry a concealed weapons permit from being disarmed in state and local government owned properties unless everyone is required for a weapons screening, as a method of self defense.

Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, is not against firearm ownership, but feels as though Arizona should be more restrictive on gun laws.

“I think this is much bigger than guns,” Everitt said. “Our concern, like the Tucson shooting, is that someone with every red flag in the world owning a gun, or someone that failed a background check being able to go to a private gun owner and purchase a gun.”

Liza Rubin is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at lizarubin@email.arizona.edu.

Click here for a Word version of this story and hi-res photos.

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