Pima County Supes vote to require gun owners to report missing firearms

The Pima County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to institute an ordinance to require gun owners to report the theft of a firearm within 48 hours or face a fine.

But the ordinance could face a legal challenge.

Supervisor Rex Scott, the District 1 Democrat who proposed the measure, said that he hoped it would prove to be a deterrent against so-called “straw buyers” who purchase firearms and then flip them to prohibited possessors who can’t pass background checks.

“The ordinance is designed to combat straw buyers,” Scott said. “The ordinance is designed to make sure that prohibited possessors do not obtain weapons. … This is a small step.”

Prohibited possessors include those convicted of a felony or domestic violence offense, people who have been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment and undocumented migrants.

Under the ordinance, Scott said, “straw purchasers will be prevented or deterred from claiming that a firearm if they bought and gave to a prohibited possessor was lost or stolen in an unreported theft. And on the prohibited possessor side, this will prevent or deter them from falsely falsely claiming that their firearms were lost or stolen when law enforcement attempts to take them.”

The new ordinance will require anyone who knew or reasonably should have known that a gun had been stolen or lost to report it to the local authorities within 48 hours of discovering the weapon is missing. Failure to do so would result in a fine of up to $1,000 for each violation, up from $300 in the draft language.

Republican Supervisor Steve Christy, who voted against the proposal, appeared befuddled by its provisions during the Tuesday meeting of the five-member Board of Supervisors.

Christy said he thought it was a bad idea to fine people for reporting a stolen or lost firearm as they were doing their civic duty.

“Let’s say I’m Joe ‘Good Citizen’ Smith and I have a firearm,” the District 4 supervisor said. “And I lose it, for whatever reason. Now, it’s just incumbent upon me, based on this resolution, that once I’ve realized I’ve lost this firearm, I march down to the police station and announce that I lost the firearm and then expect to be fined for announcing I lost a firearm?”

Dan Jurkowitz, a supervising attorney with the Pima County Attorney’s Office, clarified to the board that there was no fine for reporting a lost or stolen gun, but rather a fine for failing to report the loss or theft.

“The ordinance makes it unlawful to fail to report to a law enforcement agency if there is a loss or a theft of a firearm,” Jurkowitz said during the meeting. “It only makes it unlawful to report to law enforcement if it’s a knowing false report, which is also illegal under Arizona law currently.”

Christy said his concerns remained valid.

“I don’t think you addressed in any way, shape or form the issues I was raising,” Christy said following Jurkowitz’s explanation of the provisions.

Christy said the ordinance would not do anything to stem the illegal importation of firearms from Mexico.

“How do we address the gun-running that’s coming across the border, the issues with gun abuse and violence that’s coming across the border?” Christy asked.

Supervisor Matt Heinz, a Democrat who represents District 2, noted that the vast majority of firearms that cross the border are being smuggled into Mexico.

“I believe that the country of Mexico is suing multiple gun manufacturers in the United States—a case that was recently allowed to move forward because of the sheer quantity of weapons that are flowing south,” Heinz said. “They’re not coming in with folks at the border seeking asylum.”

The Mexican government is also suing gun dealers in Arizona, including in Tucson, for what it claims is systematically participating in gun smuggling into that country by selling to straw buyers.

Christy said he viewed the ordinance as an election-year ploy to distract from the issue of immigration, which he said was “the fault of my Democratic colleagues on this board.”

“This is a typical diversion and distraction that my colleagues are familiar with as they do quite a bit of this with resolutions like this, to take the mind and the eyes and the thoughts off the No. 1 problem facing not only Pima County but the state of Arizona and our country—and that is illegal immigration,” Christy said.

Scott, Heinz and Supervisor Sylvia Lee said they would like to pass stricter ordinances to prevent gun violence but state law now prohibits counties, cities and towns from enacting measures related to firearms that go beyond what is now regulated in state law.

The county’s ordinance notes that while state law prohibit local regulations “related to the transportation, possession, carrying, sale, transfer, purchase, acquisition, gift, devise, storage, licensing, registration, discharge or use of firearms, a reporting requirement for the loss or theft of a firearm relates to none of those issues.”

The ordinance notes that the Arizona Court of Appeals found in a case regarding the city of Tucson that state law only prohibits local firearms regulations with respect to those issues specifically identified in state statute.

State lawmakers can file a so-called 1487 complaint with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to determine whether an ordinance is in line with state law. Pima County Chief Civil Deputy Attorney Sam Brown noted that former Attorney General Tom Horne determined in a 2013 complaint that a Tucson ordinance requiring people to report lost and stolen firearms violated state statute and the city had to repeal it or face a loss of state funding.

“It’s an open question,” Brown said. “We don’t agree with that particular AG opinion.”

While “possession” is among the regulations that are prohibited in statute, “a lost or stolen ordinance isn’t really about possession because you no longer have possession,” Brown said.

Brown predicted last week that a state lawmaker “probably will” file a 1487 complaint but the interpretation of the law could be different under Attorney General Kris Mayes, a Democrat who was elected in 2022.

While county attorneys didn’t draft the ordinance in partnership with the AG’s office, Brown said they had conversations with state attorneys as they prepared the language.

Pam Simon, who previously worked for Gabby Giffords when the Democrat served in Congress and who has been advocated against gun violence since she was wounded in the 2011 mass shooting at Giffords’ Congress on Your Corner event, told supervisors that the ordinance was a move in the right direction.

“I know what it’s like to have the firearm in the hands of someone who should not have a firearm, who put a bullet through my arms, my chest,” Simon said. “So this issue is very, very real to me. Any steps that keep firearms out of the hands of those who are a danger to the public are welcome.”