TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - In a unanimous vote, the Tucson city council voted to suspend its practice of destroying guns while the state and city battle it out in court over state's rights versus local control.
The battle is over whether Tucson has the right to destroy guns and whether Arizona lawmakers can withhold state shared revenues if it does, which for Tucson amounts to about $170 million.
State lawmakers passed and Governor Doug Ducey signed SB 1487 this year which allows the state to withhold revenues from any city which passes an ordinance that violates state law.
In 2005, Tucson passed an ordinance which allows it to destroy guns most of which are seized by police or turned in by members of the community.
The state says that's a violation and is at odds with state statute which prohibits the destruction of guns and that paves the way for withholding funds under SB 1487.
Tucson says that's unconstitutional.
"We have the right by charter to dispose of property that comes in our possession whether it be guns, refrigerators or tires," says Ward VI City Council member Steve Kozachik. "They chose the ground on which to fight this one, it just happens to be guns."
The city says it is not fighting the gun battle, it's fighting for local control, which is embedded in the state constitution.
It wants the courts to declare SB 1487 unconstitutional "because it is on its face," Kozachik said.
"What SB 1487 does is it steps all over due process, it steps all over separation of powers. It's fundamentally unconstitutional. So we will take them to court in the superior court level, have a series of findings of facts as to whether or not 1487 is even constitutional. When the court throws that out. We're done," Kozachik said.
City officials voted to suspend gun destruction because the city believes it allows "it to frame the litigation so that the courts focus on (SB) 1487, because that's the principle focus," according to Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.
"We are going to suspend, pending litigation, the destruction of guns but not because that policy is wrong," said Rothschild.
The state does not believe the suspension goes far enough.
Within an hour after the city vote, the state attorney general filed a special action with the Arizona Supreme Court asking it to determine if Tucson's ordinance is a violation of state law. That is required under SB 1487.
But the city is planning to file an action in Superior Court asking it to rule the law unconstitutional, which if it does, makes the special action moot according to Kozachik, who believes there's no question but that the courts will rule in the city's favor.
"We're confident about that," he said. "They chose the ground on which to fight this one, it just happens to be the disposal of guns."
In the meantime, the city will stop destroying any seized guns until the issue is worked out.
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