Proposal diluting 'Shannon's Law' on gunshots advances

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Police passed out flyers about Shannon's Law in December. (Source: 3TV) Police passed out flyers about Shannon's Law in December. (Source: 3TV)

A proposal that would make it harder to prosecute people under a landmark 2000 law that made random or celebratory gunfire a felony was approved by an Arizona House committee on Wednesday.

The House Judiciary Committee approved the changes on a 5-4 vote despite opposition from associations representing cities, prosecutors and chiefs of police. One Republican, Rep. Maria Syms of Paradise Valley, voted against the proposal, as did all three Democrats on the panel.

House Bill 2287 by Republican Rep. Tony Rivero of Peoria lowers the current exemption for violating the law barring shooting in cities from 1 mile to 1/4 mile away from an occupied structure. It also changes the legal standard for a prosecution, from requiring a showing of criminal negligence to "knowingly or recklessly," a tougher standard to prove than the existing law.

Rivero says constituents told him prosecutors have brought charges for accidental shootings under the law. He said the shorter distance is a starting point for discussions.

"It was aimed at curbing random gunfire, and that's how it was sold to the public," Rivero said. "But it's been brought to my attention that this law has been used to go after people who have had accidental discharges in their home or their business, and that's not how it was sold to the public."

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said in an email that he knows of no cases where people claiming they accidentally fired a gun have been prosecuted under the law. He said wants to keep the existing penalty in place, or even boost it in some cases.

As to lowering the distance exemption to a quarter-mile, "a bullet fired into the air can go much further," he said.

The Legislature approved the law in 2000 in reaction to the death of 14-year-old Shannon Smith, who was killed by a stray bullet while she was in the backyard of her Phoenix home. Police agencies routinely highlight the law during New Years' and July 4th holidays when celebratory gunfire is most common.

[READ MORE: More gunfire reported over New Year's Eve this year]

Phoenix police declined to comment on the proposed legislation.

A felony conviction carries four months to two years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. First-time offenders can be eligible for probation.

Dave Kopp of the gun rights group Arizona Citizens Defense League said the law is needed to ensure accidental discharges don't lead to felony charges.

"We don't think stupid should be a felony," Kopp said.

Kopp said his group wants the shorter distance from occupied structures to conform to standard hunting rules for shooting near homes or occupied buildings.

Syms pressed Kopp for actual evidence that people had been wrongly prosecuted, and he could provide no examples.

The legislation now heads to the full House after a standard constitutional review.

The proposal is one of several firearms bills introduced in the Legislature, where majority Republicans commonly push bills easing gun laws.

[RELATED: GOP lawmaker again pushes bill on guns in public buildings]

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