Guns, Knives, and Swords: Policing a Heavily Armed Arizona
47 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2019 Last revised: 13 Feb 2020
Date Written: December 14, 2018
Arizona is widely recognized as the most permissive state in the country for public weapons possession. In 2010, then-Governor Jan Brewer famously removed all permitting requirements for public concealed carry of firearms, making Arizona only the third “constitutional carry” state in the nation. Also in 2010, and to much less fanfare, Arizona became the first state to prohibit local governments from enacting any regulations restricting the sale or possession of knives of any kind, including swords, maces, and other exotic blades. Today, Arizona remains the only state in the country with virtually no restrictions on the public concealed carry of any type of bladed weapon. In part owing to this deregulatory environment, as many as twelve percent of all Arizonans report publicly carrying a concealed deadly weapon on their person or in their vehicle.
But these laws have also created confusion for Arizona police officers charged with protecting the public. For over a century, Arizona officers could justifiably initiate an investigatory stop of a publicly armed individual based on little more than a reasonable suspicion that such possession was unlawful. But in a state where a significant percentage of the population lawfully possesses weapons in public, Arizona police must now discern which lethal weapons carriers are law abiding citizens and which ones pose true criminal threats to the public. Increasing the confusion for Arizona law enforcement, the Ninth Circuit and Arizona Supreme Court have recently authored conflicting opinions regarding whether a lawfully stopped individual can be frisked solely because he is armed or whether he must also give the officer reasonable suspicion that he is “presently dangerous.”
This Article examines three distinct aspects of Arizona law and policy as it relates to this growing confusion. First, it challenges the efficacy and constitutionality of Arizona’s “duty to inform” law, which seeks to clarify this reasonable suspicion quandary by requiring concealed weapons possessors to affirmatively disclose the presence of weapons to police officers when asked. As a matter of federal constitutional law, officers can only require citizens to cooperate with inquiries if reasonable suspicion already existed to justify the stop. In contrast, by requiring citizens to voluntarily disclose information to officers, “duty to inform” laws arguably place these encounters with law enforcement outside the traditional Terry v. Ohio stop context, thus rendering the encounter consensual and failing to solve the reasonable suspicion issue.
Second, the Article considers the competing case law in Arizona regarding the “armed and dangerous” prong of stop and frisk for lawful gun carriers. The Arizona Supreme Court in State v. Serna held that lawful weapons carriers cannot automatically be considered dangerous for purposes of a protective frisk. The Ninth Circuit, in United States v. Orman, held otherwise, and
focused on characteristics of gun ownership not explicitly considered by the Arizona Supreme Court. But both cases involved consensual encounters and not involuntary investigative stops. The Article surveys case law from other jurisdictions to offer a balanced approach to frisks of lawfully stopped, lawfully armed Arizonans.
Third, the Article highlights policy considerations relevant to resolving these competing perspectives, as well as the competing interests of Arizonans in exercising their statutory possession rights and of officers in protecting themselves and others when faced with a public weapon carrier. In doing so, the Article explores for the first time in scholarly literature what, if any, parallels can be drawn from the experience of officers stopping and frisking lawful gun carriers and officers stopping and frisking lawful knife carriers.
Keywords: Fourth Amendment, stop and frisk, concealed carry, firearms, knives, terry v. ohio
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