A Firearm Safety Call to Policy Action: Guest Blog by AZPHA Member Mike Humphrey

Pima County continues to suffer from firearm-related violence.  Data provided by the Pima County Health Department showed that in 2023 there were 213 firearm related deaths. Latest figures (2021) from the Pima County Health Department showed that the local firearm death rate was 22.7 per 100,000, which is significantly higher than the national average of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 (Pew Research Center).

During 2022 (the latest full year reported), there were 533 hospital and emergency visits costing $33M. Seventy percent of these costs were covered by public funds. During the first half of 2023, over $23 million dollars was spent on treating firearm related injuries in our community. 

Nationally, the U.S. Sentencing Commission estimates that 88.8% of firearm offenders sentenced were prohibited from having a firearm in the first place. 

Information provided by the Pima County Attorney’s Office shows that between 1/5 to 1/3 of firearm crimes are committed by prohibited possessors. Given the current situation, what can be done to curtail the easy accessibility of firearms for prohibited possessors – persons who cannot legally own firearms as defined by ARS 13-3101.

There are several possible ways within current state statutes to limit the ability of prohibited possessors to obtain and retain firearms. Local judges, prosecutors and law enforcement agencies working in collaboration with state and federal authorities can: 

One, limit the ability of persons to sell or transfer firearms to a prohibited possessor. Local law enforcement agencies should enforce the provisions of ARS 13-3102 (Misconduct Involving Weapons) which makes it illegal for a persons to sell or transfer a firearm to a prohibited possessor. Enforcement of the statute should be in coordination with ATF&E (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives).

Using the existing firearm retailer ATF&E notification system, whereby retailers alert ATF of potential straw purchasers, ATF&E could share this notification with local law enforcement agencies to encourage enforcement of the state statute, in coordination with federal straw purchase enforcement efforts.

Enhanced enforcement should be combined with public education.  This education should take two forms: one, informing the public that selling or transferring firearms to a prohibited possessor is a crime and they will face arrest and prosecution; and two, working with FFL dealers on how to better find and deter persons trying to buy firearms for prohibited possessors. 

Two, ensure that adjudicated prohibited possessors as defined by ARS 13-3101(Prohibited Possessors)k, surrender their firearms to local law enforcement in compliance with ARS 13-3105 (Seizure of Weapons). Develop,  implement and monitor uniform procedures to ensure that court-ordered firearm surrender requirements are met. Rand Research pointed out the need for more enforcement of firearm surrender, stating in part:

“Although firearm surrender laws exist in several states, there is evidence that they may not be implemented well…Even when firearms are ordered to be surrendered, there is often no clear procedure for enforcing such orders”.

Three, ensure that prohibited possessors surrender their concealed carry permits (CCW) in compliance with ARS 13-3112 (Concealed weapons). Develop, implement, and check uniform procedures to ensure the  surrender of CCW’s, including notifying the Department of Public Safety to remove the person’s name from the State’s CCW registry. This step is needed to prevent prohibited possessors from walking into a gun shop and buying a firearm without a background check.

Four, ensure that minors convicted of  firearm-related crimes be identified as prohibited possessors per the provisions of ARS 13-3111 (Minors Prohibited from Possessing Firearms) and required them to surrender their firearms in accordance with ARS -13-3105. This is crucial, as we have seen the heart-breaking carnage inflicted by even very young persons with firearms. 

While these actions in and of themselves will not end illegal access to firearms by prohibited possessors, they are worth the effort in making the acquisition and retention of firearms more difficult and by so doing, reduce firearm-related deaths and injuries in our community. 

Let’s all work together to make this happen. Thank you. 

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