PHOENIX (AP) — Residents in Arizona cities who spot a rat or snake in their yard will be able to shoot the animals using a small-caliber gun loaded with tiny pellets under legislation that Republicans gave initial approval Tuesday.
A group of scientists opposed to the proposal say it endangers people by encouraging firearm use in populated areas and puts them at risk as they approach venomous snakes. In Phoenix and other cities in Arizona, neighborhoods are commonly built on or near the desert.
Democrats failed to persuade Republicans who control the state House that the measure would lead to more injuries and waste officers' time with additional gunfire calls. Wildlife advocates and residents worried about stray gunfire also oppose it.
Rep. Jay Lawrence said his legislation isn't about shooting reptiles or rodents, despite the definitions in his bill referring to "rat or snake shot."
"This is not a kill-animals bill, it has nothing to do with killing snakes, it has nothing to do with killing rats, cats or dogs," Lawrence said. "This is a firearms bill, strictly and totally."
The National Conference of State Legislatures said it does not track such legislation, so it's unclear how many other states have similar laws.
Gun-rights advocates support House Bill 2022, which changes a landmark 2000 law against celebratory gunfire enacted after a stray bullet struck and killed a Phoenix teen. The law made it a felony to fire a gun within city limits.
It has an exemption allowing people to shoot nuisance wildlife but opponents have argued that the new measure will encourage more gunfire in cities and towns.
"I'm concerned about relaxing the restrictions on use of firearms within city limits," said Democratic Rep. Kirsten Engel of Tucson. "Generally, I think those two do not mix too well and we could see an increase of injuries to people as a result of this bill."
Engel also worries about people approaching snakes, noting statistics that show many snake bites happen when people try to kill or capture them. Plus, killing snakes isn't necessarily a good thing.
"I'm concerned because snakes are a beneficial part of our ecosystem," she said. "They actually get rid of rats."
For his part, Lawrence said a BB gun shoots farther and higher than the type of ammunition he's looking to legalize for use inside city limits.
Republicans who routinely approve reductions to firearm restrictions backed the bill. Rep. Eddie Farnsworth said allowing the use of tiny shotgun shells is safer than a .22-caliber round.
"Believe me, we aren't the Soviet Union yet, so we do have a legitimate use for firearms," he said. "By having this shot included in what we can use within a quarter-mile (of an occupied building), we actually are making people safer."
The original 2000 law stipulates 1 mile, but another change awaiting House action narrows the distance someone must be from a building to shoot a gun.
The chamber approved the rat shot measure on a voice vote, and it awaits a formal vote to determine if it advances to the Senate.