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Arizona House Democratic leader seeks special session for gun safety

Arizona House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez ( Photo)

PHOENIX – Feeling compelled to act after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio over the weekend, the Democratic leader of the Arizona House of Representatives doesn’t want to wait until next year to address gun violence.

Rep. Charlene Fernandez of Yuma is calling for a special session for the Legislature to consider the 30 bills submitted by Democrats — and ignored by Republicans — over the past five years concerning gun reform and safety.

“I think the governor was talking about this discussion happening in 2020, when we get back in January, and I think it’s something we need to do now,” the House minority leader told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday.

Fernandez said there are two ways a special session can be called in Arizona: by a two-thirds vote in each chamber of the Legislature or by Gov. Doug Ducey’s order. That means she would need the support of Republicans to make it happen.

“I think the will is there. … I’m hopeful for our governor, that maybe he will call us into special session. I’m hopeful that we’ll get not just a few Republicans, but all of them that say, ‘Yes, this needs to be something that we tackle today,’” Fernandez said.

A month after 17 people were killed in a shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school last year, Ducey proposed a school safety plan in March 2018 that included a judicial process to take weapons away from people deemed to pose imminent threats.

The bill didn’t make it through the Legislature, but the Republican governor has recently said he still wants to see Severe Threat Order of Protection plan implemented.

“I’m hoping that with the governor opening the door, talking about the STOP order that he wanted to implement, that actually never went anywhere either, that we could do this sooner rather than later,” Fernandez said.

The House minority leader called the STOP order “a start” and said she also supports universal background checks, a ban on “military-style assault rifles” and restrictions on high-capacity magazines, among other measures.

“We don’t want to talk about taking away anyone’s guns, but this is about a judge using his discretion and following a certain protocol,” she said, referring to the STOP order plan, which is similar to the “red flag” proposals gaining national traction this week in the wake of the recent shootings.

On Saturday, a 21-year-old man was arrested after killing 22 people and wounding dozens at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart. Then early Sunday morning, a 24-year-old man killed nine people, including his sister, and wounded dozens at a Dayton, Ohio, entertainment district before being fatally shot by law enforcement.

Those shootings occurred about a week after a 19-year-old man killed three people and wounded more than a dozen at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California on July 28 before killing himself.

Fernandez said she wants constituents to know their lawmakers hear their concerns about gun violence.

“I think people are looking to their elected officials to alleviate that feeling of helplessness,” she said. “What can we do so that this doesn’t happen again anywhere, anywhere in this country?

“That’s what compelled me to think that we need to start discussing this, we need to be serious about it, and it needs to be sooner rather than later.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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