Tucson and state will square off in court over gun laws and local control

After the Tucson City Council refused Tuesday to permanently stop the practice of destroying confiscated firearms, Attorney General Mark Brnovich asked the Arizona Supreme Court to cut off the city’s state aid.

Potentially at stake in the showdown over local control is $115 million a year that Tucson receives in state-shared revenue.

The City Council voted 7-0 to reject Brnovich’s demand that it repeal its 2005 ordinance requiring the destruction of most handguns and semi-automatic weapons seized by police.


Tuesday’s action is the first test of a new state law giving Brnovich the power to pressure cities to change policies he believes contradict the wishes of Arizona lawmakers. The law, known as SB 1486, allows the state to withhold state-shared revenues if Tucson refuses to repeal its legislation.

On Tuesday, city officials revised downward the dollar amount they believe is in jeopardy if Tucson loses in court, saying only two types of state revenue are applicable. The city received a total of $115 million from both last year.

These funds are used to pay for law enforcement, city courts, public transportation and the parks and recreation department, said Joyce Garland, the city’s chief financial officer.

The City Council said it will temporarily stop the practice of destroying guns until the legal issue has been resolved, but it ordered City Attorney Mike Rankin to take all legal action to defend the city’s rights under its voter-approved city charter.

The first action will be to file a separate legal challenge of a requirement under SB 1486 that the city post a $57 million bond in order to challenge the attorney general in court, said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

The 2016 law mandates that any community that wants to fight the attorney general in court must first post a bond equal to half of its annual state aid.

That requires an unprecedented and unconstitutional multimillion-dollar filing fee just to access the court system, Rothschild said.

If the Supreme Court rejects the city’s appeal, he said the city will pursue other legal options.

“In my practice of law, in which I did for a little while, what I learned was you take it one day at a time,” Rothschild said. “I am confident in our position, but if a court gives us guidance else-wise we will find the tools to deal with it.”

Councilman Steve Kozachik was less sure about the city’s options if a judge throws out the city’s appeal to waive the bond.

“We don’t have that kind of cash,” he said.

Councilwoman Regina Romero said the state targeted Tucson with SB 1487 and a lawsuit was inevitable. “We were waiting on this,” she said.

The motion approved by the council says the destruction of seized firearms serves the protection of public safety and the safety of police officers.

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