Political Gunfight in the Old Pueblo
With gun violence grabbing national headlines in recent years, Tucson, AZ now finds itself at the forefront of a political and legal storm raging across the country over what powers local municipalities do and do not have in their attempts to combat the problem. Particularly at issue is whether city governments have the authority to destroy firearms that have been surrendered to or confiscated by them.
The obvious answer here seems to be in the affirmative. Historically, Americans have strongly believed in the idea of local self-government. This principle is embodied conceptually in ‘home rule,’ an idea that preserves the autonomy of municipal government within a state for purely local matters. For Tucson’s officials this means that all guns their municipality possesses can be disposed of at their sole discretion.
Following the mass shooting of January 8, 2011, the Old Pueblo began a policy of liquidating guns that people voluntarily turned in to the police department for destruction; they also got rid of most weapons that were taken from criminals. Almost immediately local gun lobbyists, led by Todd Rathner, opined that the city was in violation of state law, and vowed that if they couldn’t get the courts to agree they would “work with our friends in the Legislature” to change the law to prevent it.
Enter Oro Valley Republican Rep. Mark Finchem. In 2013 he won approval for his bill withholding state shared sales tax revenue from any city that destroyed a gun rather than selling it back onto the streets. Tucson’s leadership responded by refusing to acquiesce to the measure, and as a result have been taken to court by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich; they, for their part, argue that the new law amounts to little more than illegal coercion.
At the heart of the issue: who has the power to govern? Arizona, since its inception, valued the concept of local autonomy, hence, the state Constitution adopted home rule charter provisions for cities that would allow them to remain as nearly independent as possible from the state legislature.
Some, like Brnovich, contend that these particular firearms regulations must be done away with because they hinder the Constitutional right to bear arms. This is a big reach. Nothing in the city’s policy is preventing people from owning or buying weapons, nor is it even mandating that people turn in their guns for liquidation.
Opponents of the destruction of guns argue, pragmatically, that doing so is a waste of public resources and thus, the state must step in to save local anti-gun politicians from themselves. George Washington would probably not approve of such political encroachment. The Republic he helped form is predicated on the notion that people vote for their leadership, and indirectly for the laws they pass. So, if the residents of Tucson had a problem with it, then they should be the ones to do something about it, not the state.
Our nation’s history is filled with examples of bad laws and that is to be expected in the grand experiment of government. Mistakes will be made. At the heart of self-government, encapsulated in our federated system of national government, is that decisions of regulating daily life should be left as much as possible to local communities. This is even spelled out in the 10th Amendment, as all powers not delegated to the U.S. are left to the states or the people.
The irony is that representative Finchem and his colleagues are huge proponents of self-determination and rigorously combat any attempt by the federal government, perceived or real, to retard state sovereignty. Yet, because he and his political allies find it so abhorrent that guns are being destroyed, they have sought to take legitimate power away from the residents of Tucson.
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