Across cities in the Valley, ordinances are in place that keep people from bringing their weapons — concealed or open — into city buildings, like city hall, council chambers, libraries, etc.
However, the laws don’t strictly prevent someone from carrying in certain places.
At the state level, Arizona Revised Statutes 13-3102 lists 16 ways a person can commit misconduct involving weapons. Among them is:
Unless specifically authorized by law, entering any public establishment or attending any public event and carrying a deadly weapon on his person after a reasonable request by the operator of the establishment or the sponsor of the event or the sponsor’s agent to remove his weapon and place it in the custody of the operator of the establishment or the sponsor of the event for temporary and secure storage of the weapon pursuant to section 13-3102.01.
Other parts of the law prevent people from entering an election polling place with a deadly weapon on the day of any election, from possessing a deadly weapon on school grounds or entering a nuclear or hydroelectric generating station with a deadly weapon on their person or within the immediate control of any person.
But without strict checks on a person, that person can probably get away with carrying concealed as long as the firearm is out of sight. For example, in Surprise, officials only check for guns at court and during council meetings. At city hall, not so much.
To aid gun carriers from not bringing their weapons onto city premises, cities have made available gun storage lockers or boxes at their buildings.
Sun City West resident Byron Baker noticed the boxes while out and about in Peoria, taking photos along the way. Mr. Baker brought the boxes to attention because he said people may not know that firearm carriers have no place safer than their holster when shopping, banking, getting medical care, etc.
But at least in Peoria and Surprise, gun carriers do.
In Surprise, the carrying of firearms is prohibited inside of municipal buildings. Signs are posted at entryways that indicate such.
At the benefit of gun carriers, Surprise provides storage lockers at city hall. They were installed during the construction of the building, which opened to the public in 2009. Currently, there are four gun lockers available at the city hall campus, outside of the south entry door near the city café.
In addition, gun lockers were installed at the Surprise Senior Center and the Surprise Resource Center in the spring. Each have two gun lockers located outside of their main entryways.
The lockers at city hall are unlocked by default. To use the locker, a user places their weapon inside, closes the door, types in a four-digit code, and then hits the lock button. To retrieve their weapon, they enter their four-digit code again.
The lockers at the Surprise Senior Center and the Surprise Resource Center remain locked until a community member requests to use it. At that point the staff will unlock the locker and then the resident follows the same procedure as at city hall.
Surprise police Sgt. Tim Klarkowski said it is not usually the case that city employees will check if someone is carrying a firearm upon entering a building. So, as mentioned above, it is possible for a concealed carrier to hide their weapon. But they risk being charged if authorities find they possess a weapon on city premises.
Mr. Klarkowski said the only times officials actually check are during council meetings and when people enter Surprise City Court.
At council meetings and at city court, all attendees are screened via a metal detector, and any packages or bags they are carrying are run through an x-ray machine. Screening of individuals and bags coming into the court facility is handled by contracted court security staff.
As far as the gun lockers are concerned, Mr. Klarkowski said there is no one assigned to monitor them continuously.
“We do, however, have two police officers assigned to city hall during business hours on weekdays,” he said. “They regularly patrol the area, to include the location of the gun lockers. One of the officers is usually at the front desk which has a direct view of the gun lockers. In looking through our records I have not been able to locate any reports of the lockers being broken into or any attempts to break into them.”
Out in Peoria, city code also prohibits the carrying of weapons in city buildings. As part of the code, the city manager or their designee should ensure there is signage at the entrance of each city building that informs visitors “the possession of weapons inside the building is unlawful and that such weapons must be placed in the custody of the police department while a person is in a building owned, leased by or occupied by the city.”
Failing to do so is a class 1 misdemeanor.
“The purpose of the boxes is to allow those citizens who are carrying a weapon to safely secure it prior to entering into a city building,” Peoria police Officer Brandon Sheffert said about the lock boxes outside the police station. “These boxes have been around for at least 10 years. I am not sure on specifically when but again they were implemented to accommodate those who carry handguns.”
The Peoria boxes are locked with a key. Gun carriers unlock the box, put their weapon inside, lock the box, and then keep the key in their possession until they are ready to retrieve their firearm.
At council meetings, officials do not search residents as they enter city buildings, however, they do utilize metal detectors at the council chambers during council meetings.
“We expect that citizens will abide by the law that prohibits them from entering a city building armed,” Mr. Sheffert said.
As for the security of the lock boxes outside city buildings, Mr. Sheffert said he is not aware of any reports of anyone tampering with the boxes. They are also not officially monitored.
Police do not recommend that people leave weapons in their vehicles. However, if that is necessary, police recommend hiding them, locking them in a glove box or in a vehicle gun safe.
“The other option would be to leave the weapon home if you are coming to a city building,” Mr. Sheffert stated.
While Sun City West resident Byron Baker doesn’t think he would use the gun lockers or boxes if he had to enter a public city building, he feels they are needed.
“I can’t change public policies,” Mr. Baker said. “However, I believe that anyone using policies or statutes to disarm citizens should provide storage alternatives for daily carriers of firearms. Smash and grab robberies aren’t a confidence builder when we’re told to store our weapons in our cars with ammunition in the trunk, gun in an interior console.”
And with deadly mass shootings in August, people — and in particular gun carriers — may be weary of leaving their firearms in storages, vehicles or at home while out in public.
As far as Peoria is concerned, police said they have safety measures in place throughout the city to keep residents safe when they are in city buildings.
“However, we do not share this information as we do not want someone to use it for improper purposes,” Mr. Sheffert stated. “We continually review safety protocol and plans for all city buildings to ensure the public and employees are safe.”
Surprise police Sgt. Tim Klarkowski was just as confident in his agency’s capabilities to protect the public.
“The City of Surprise and Surprise PD are dedicated to providing our community members with a safe city hall campus,” Mr. Klarkowski stated. “As such, two police officers are assigned to the city hall complex Monday through Friday during business hours. The officers assigned to this detail are there to ensure the safety and security of residents as they conduct their business.
“Our staff at other municipal facilities are encouraged to be on the lookout for any suspicious or unusual activity and report such activity to police immediately.”