By Erik Kolsrud
PHOENIX — When the Arizona National Guard is called out of the state, who remains to defend the state from threats foreign and domestic? That duty falls to the militia of the state of Arizona, known the Arizona State Guard.
The State Guard has never actually been called and a situation where they would be is unlikely. But if that were ever to happen, Rep. David Stringer (R-D1) has a plan to get everyone ready — and make sure they can keep their guns.
Stringer has introduced HCR2002 that amends the Arizona Constitution to widen the pool of potential militia members as well as HB2058 and HB2059, which call for the creation of a Civilian Marksmanship Program “to provide firearms for training in marksmanship skills to citizens and residents of this state who are eligible for service in the Arizona State Guard.” Through this program, the state of Arizona get into the business of selling firearms, ammunition, and merchandise as well as offer firearms safety and youth firearms competitions.
Just like the Civilian Marksmanship Program.
That is to say, the national Civilian Marksmanship Program, which was established by Congress in 1996 and is “dedicated to training and educating U. S. citizens in responsible uses of firearms and airguns through gun safety training, marksmanship training and competitions.” The CMP has an annual budget of over $20 million, and is primarily financed through the sale of surplus military equipment and an endowment.
Each state has an affiliated club or association that one can join to take advantage of the training and programs offered by the CMP. Arizona’s affiliate is called the Arizona State Rifle & Pistol Association, which operates the Joe Foss Shooting Range in Buckeye. The ASRPA offers courses in firearms safety and puts on shooting competitions much like the CMP does nationally, and the proposed Arizona CMP would ostensibly do too.
The ASRPA did not respond to requests for comment, but the Arizona Citizens Defense League, a grassroots firearms organization, stood by the legislation, despite having nothing to do with it. Charles Heller is the co-founder of the AZCDL, handling communications for the organization as well as running a radio show called Liberty Watch Radio.
“We did not ask for the bill,” Heller said. “We do support it for the simple reason that we think that the idea of a militia is a good thing, and if you have a militia you ought to have it trained.”
The AZCDL usually has a hand in the crafting of firearms legislation, and claims approximately 15,000 members — which the AZCDL claims include several state legislators. While the organization maintains a cadre of lobbyists at the Legislature and offers ideas for firearms legislation, it stops short of drafting the bills for them. In this instance, Stringer’s legislation is an independent affair.
“The CMP promotes marksmanship, which is a valuable skill,” Charles Heller, “Without marksmanship you can’t shoot straight.”
So if the nation already has a CMP, why the redundancy? The answer to that lies in the last part of the bill. The last change proposed under the legislation has several chunks related to the weaponry permitted for use by the State Guard:
“The ability to call forth an effective Arizona State Guard requires a body of citizens within this state who possess and are trained in the use of arms consistent with the purpose of the Arizona State Guard. A person who is or has been a member of the militia of the state of Arizona pursuant to Section 26-121 is authorized to privately purchase, in accordance with all state law, any particularly suited firearms or equipment for this purpose.”
The bill then goes on to list all the general categories of semiautomatic shotguns, rifles and pistols that qualify along with the types of firearms accessories that a militia member could purchase and keep. All of the items are legal to purchase today — provided the purchaser meets basic firearms requirements like age, criminal and mental history or in the case of sound suppressors, pays a $200 stamp tax to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Though a situation where the State Guard seems far-fetched, the threat of gun control and regulation of what Arizonans can and cannot buy is something that haunts the CDL and legal experts like Michael Taylor, who contributed by writing the bill. Taylor, a lawyer, was brought on by Stringer as a volunteer because of his expertise in firearms law.
“Because [the AZ CMP] would be authorized to sell firearms, it will then be able to in the event that say, the federal government, decides to use the Commerce Clause to shut off access to certain things,” Taylor said. “In the event that it were required, firearms for marksmanship training can still be supplied by the state for marksmanship purposes.”
The Commerce Clause has been the preferred mechanism to restrict gun purchases at the national level, used famously in the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. The federal government has the right to regulate interstate commerce — but if the guns are produced and used only in Arizona, they are not subject to a potential ban under the Commerce Clause.
Hence the long list of guns suitable for the State Guard.
“If you are going to actually regulate a militia, then you need to narrow it down to a particular subset of things you expect people to show up with,” Taylor said. “This is an honest effort to have a certain continuity with equipment, and as such, this equipment is protected.”
This sort of preemptive protection against firearms legislation is unprecedented. In crafting the bill, Taylor explicitly used language from Supreme Court decisions regarding militias and guns. Doing so served a dual purpose: updating the Arizona definitions to match those of the federal government, as well as following precedent in structuring the State Guard and firearm ownership by the militia.
“It is largely about a preemptive move to provide the US supreme court the information they need to make a decision in our favor,” Taylor said.
Erik Kolsrud is the Don Bolles Fellow covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News, a service provided by the school of journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.