Arizona governor signs bill to preempt nonexistent gun restrictions by cities

The bill is part of a pattern of restrictions on local government, observers say.

On Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that bars cities and towns from mandating sale of smart guns. In this Jan. 11, 2016, file photo, Ducey presents his State of the State address, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)
On Wednesday, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill that bars cities and towns from mandating sale of smart guns. In this Jan. 11, 2016, file photo, Ducey presents his State of the State address, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

On Wednesday, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill that bars cities and towns from mandating sale of so-called “smart guns”—technology that tracks a weapon or stops unauthorized users from firing it.

It’s just one of several Arizona laws in recent years that has restricted the ordinances localities can pass — many, though not all, with a conservative bent, observers say.

The new law makes it a felony to require others to use a technology that “is used to locate or control the use of a firearm.” Its focus appears to be on technology like GPS and block chain, which respectively track a weapon’s physical location and its chain of ownership. But the bill could also apply to technologies like radio frequency identification (RFID) that limit who can fire a weapon.

Anyone found guilty of violating the new law could face a jail sentence of between one year and three years and nine months, according to a fact sheet that accompanied the legislation.

Elected officials will likely have immunity if they violate the law by enacting a smart gun ordinance. But unelected city officials who enforce that ordinance could still be prosecuted, according to Alex Vidal, a legislative associate at the League of Arizona Cities and Towns

Advocates say the Arizona bill stops cities and towns from imposing a technology on gun owners that could subject them to government surveillance or could fail when they need their weapon most.

“It simply prevents any government entity from mandating that’s the only type of weapon you can buy,” Republican state Sen. John Kavanagh told the Arizona Capitol Times in March.

But advocates argue that requiring safety features on commercial firearms is akin to requiring seat belts on cars — a government mandate that could save lives.

“[Y]ou shouldn’t in advance stop people from mandating a technology that can save lives just because it doesn’t absolutely work perfectly yet,” Democratic state Rep. Steve Farley told the Capitol Times.

No Arizona city is currently attempting to mandate smart guns, according to Vidal. “We’re not aware of any cities interested in doing anything on this at all,” he said.

But in 2002, New Jersey passed a law that would restrict gun dealers to selling smart guns. It only kicks in three years after a registered gun dealer begins selling smart weapons.

Since then, smart guns have become kryptonite for U.S. gun dealers.

The German company Armatix introduced a commercial smart gun in 2014 that can only be fired in the presence of an RFID-enabled wrist watch. The few U.S. stores that have tried to stock it faced intense backlash, and they quickly pulled it from their shelves.

Many gun advocates worry that is a U.S. dealer carries smart guns, it will trigger the New Jersey law, meaning that within three years only smart guns will be available in the state. For others, the concern is more nebulous—that smart guns are a slippery slope to government surveillance and eroded rights.

No licensed U.S. gun dealer currently sells a smart gun. The Obama administration tried to revive the technology as part of its 2013 plan to reduce gun violence. However, gun advocates remained skeptical of government efforts to promote smart guns.

“The NRA does not oppose smart-gun technology,” Lars Dalseide, a spokesperson for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, told the Christian Science Monitor last year. “The NRA opposes the mandated use of smart-gun technology.”

Back in Arizona, bills that preempt actions by local government have become an regular part of state government, according to Ken Strobeck, the League of Arizona Cities and Towns’s executive director.

Indeed, another law already on the books in Arizona prevents local governments from enacting any gun law more strict than state law, with few exceptions.

“Just even speaking the idea has resulted in legislation to stop it,” Strobeck said of the granular attention state legislators pay to city officials.

But with no Arizona city moving to mandate smart gun technology, it remains unclear why the legislation came forward. Its sponsor, Republican state Rep. Paul Boyer, did not return multiple requests for comment on Thursday.