PHOENIX — The state's influential gun lobby suffered a key setback Thursday as its demands for state-mandated access to bank services ran headlong into the right of the banks not to do business with them.
Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, refused to allow a vote on a proposal to require businesses to certify that they don't discriminate against firearms manufacturers, dealers or suppliers if they want to get a contract to provide products or services to the state or local governments. That came after it became obvious there were not the votes on the panel to advance the measure to the full Senate.
The concerns about the measure did not come from the Democrats who make up only four of the 10 senators on the committee. Instead, doubts came from Republicans who questioned why the state would tell private entities how — and with whom — they should conduct business.
Sen. Vince Leach, R-Tucson, said he is a big supporter of the Second Amendment and the right of individuals to purchase and bear arms.
But Leach said he has to consider other rights and principles in making decision. There is also, he said, the "pursuit of happiness.''
"And I think that is equal to the Second Amendment protection,'' Leach said.
He's not alone.
"We always as the government want to hesitate when stepping in to tell businesses how to run their show,'' said Sen. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler.
In refusing to allow a vote on HB 2473, Livingston did not kill it outright. That creates the opportunity for Rep. Frank Carroll, R-Sun City West, to try to change some minds, line up support and resurrect it later in the legislative process.
The measure, while addressing the business practices of all types of companies, is specifically aimed at banks.
Bank of America, which handles the state's business, stopped making new loans in 2018 to companies that make military-style rifles for civilian use.
The head of JPMorgan Chase has announced similar policies. Citigroup announced it would not provide services to retailers who sell guns to people who haven't passed a background check, are younger than 21, or sell "bump stocks'' that allow semi-automatic weapons to effectively become machine guns.
Lobbyist Michael Infanzon, who represents the Arizona Citizens Defense League and the Arizona Firearms Trade Association, told lawmakers the actions of banks are even broader than that. He said Bank of America refused to open an account for him because of his client list including the firearms trade group.
Under questioning, however, Infanzon conceded he eventually was able to get banking services — from Mountain America Credit Union in Utah.
Jay Kaprosy, lobbyist for the Arizona Bankers Association, said that shows that while some banks have made decisions about doing business with firms that make, distribute or sell guns, the fact remains others have decided to welcome that same business.
"In the free market, we have other options that become available,'' he told lawmakers.
Michael Findlay of the National Shooting Sports Foundation said this is about more than business opportunities.
"This is a roundabout way that a small minority of activists are using the banking industry to deny a constitutional industry from providing the tools for citizens to use their constitutional Second Amendment rights,'' said Findlay, whose organization represents the firearms industry. "That's what makes this different.''
Kaprosy said that rhetoric is "an exaggeration of what's going on in society today.''
"I'm able to purchase the firearms and the ample amount of ammo that, as a U.S. citizen, that's a right that I have,'' he said. "Nothing has infringed upon that.''
Infanzon, for his part, tried a different tactic, going back to being turned away from Bank of America because of his representation of the firearms industry.
"If one of my clients was the NAACP and banks said, 'No, we're not going to do business with you because one of your clients is the NAACP,' that's outright discrimination,'' he said. "Well, this is the same thing.''
Kaprosy, however, said there are "thousands of pages of regulations that prevent us from discrimination against individuals that we might bank with.''
Those, he said, are based on legally defined "protected classes,'' like race or religion, and instead impose state laws that affect a specific industry.
Nothing in the measure actually would force banks to do business with the firearms industry. Instead, it is designed to financially penalize those who do not: No bank could get a contract with state or local government without first certifying that it does not have policies against doing business gun manufacturers, dealers and others.
Look for efforts to resurrect the measure in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the form of a maneuver known as a "strike-everything'' amendment, in which the contents of another bill, already approved by the House, are stripped out and replaced with what was in HB 2473.
There are implications beyond which banks get to service the accounts of state and local governments. If approved, the measure also could preclude those financial institutions that refuse to obey the new law from underwriting municipal bonds.
That is the issue now playing out in Texas where the legislature last year adopted a similar law.