Arizona’s repeat ranking as No. 1 for gun owners draws praise, concern

WASHINGTON – For the third straight year, Arizona was ranked best state in the nation for gun owners by Guns and Ammo magazine, which praised the state’s self-defense and carry laws, its shooting sports and strong gun culture.

“Arizona combines strong laws with an unmatched shooting culture and a strong industry presence,” said the magazine, which said it gave the state full points in each of the five categories in which it ranked states.

“I’m very proud of this ranking, most certainly,” said Noble C. Hathaway, president of the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association. “Gun shooting is a wonderful, safe sport to be enjoyed.”

But where gun-rights advocates saw cause for celebration, others saw cause for concern, pointing to another No. 1 ranking for the state: The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence finding that Arizona is the best state for criminals to get access to guns.

The gun-control group in March put Arizona at the top of its “criminals’ choice” states, which it said have weak gun laws that make it easy for criminals to get their hands on guns.

“In some areas, this ranking is not a bad thing,” Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, said of the Guns and Ammo ranking.

“But when Guns and Ammo magazine and others do not look at the easy accessibility to weapons by people that should not have them, that’s not something we should be bragging about,” he said. “No one should be bragging about that.”

Gallego’s comments came at a Washington event last week, when he was joined by Scottsdale gun shop owner Chris Kitaeff to call on gun dealers to adopt the Brady Campaign’s “gun dealer code of conduct.” Kitaeff asked if being No. 1 on the Guns and Ammo ranking was a good thing.

“I roll my eyes at the Guns and Ammo ranking because some of the criteria and variables on why we’re first, like there’s no law for concealed-carry, didn’t make sense,” said Kitaeff, who owns Newport Firearms.

That was echoed by Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign.

“‘Best’ is not exactly the term I would use for states with lax gun policies like Arizona. ‘Best’ should be reserved for those states that promote responsible gun ownership and gun-sale practices,” Gross said in an emailed statement.

The Brady Campaign rankings were based on dozens of factors in several areas, including background checks, the state’s supply of guns and the amount of gun-related violence and crime in the state. States could get up to 100 points on the ranking: Arizona scored -39.

But one gun-rights activist called the Brady score “meaningless.”

“I see no statistical claim that their claim is true. It’s made up. As with most of their stuff, it’s made up,” said Charles Heller, spokesman for the Arizona Citizens Defense League.

“Don’t penalize the law-abiding for the acts of the guilty, which is what the Brady Campaign wants to do,” Heller said.

The Guns and Ammo report ranked states in five categories, including right-to-carry laws; the ability to own military-looking weapons, or “black rifles”; and the presence of Castle Doctrine or Stand Your Ground laws, allowing deadly force in some self-defense situations.

Hathaway said the No. 1 ranking is good for the state’s economy as well as its gun owners.

“Personally I feel, come and out and enjoy the guns in our state – come to our events, our competitions,” he said. “Enjoy our hotels, restaurants, weather, take advantage of it all.”

Gallego, who said he is a gun owner, agrees that Arizona should encourage people to visit it for hunting, camping, shooting and fishing, but that the state can do that and still toughen its gun laws.

“There are so many loopholes that need to be closed,” he said.

Kitaeff said he has not seen a drop in business since he adopted the gun dealer code of conduct.

“The funny thing about guns sales is that it’s recession proof,” he said. “Whatever is going on, people seem to like their guns, and us implementing the Brady Campaign standards haven’t impacted our bottom line at all.”