State lawmakers refused on Monday to make criminals out of members of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and other armed groups patrolling the Mexican border.
The vote to kill House Bill 2286 came after more than four hours of often-heated testimony and accusations over who was calling whom racists or vigilantes.
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, acknowledged that her measure was aimed largely at the Minuteman group. She even showed videos to members of the House Committee on Homeland Security and Property Rights, which she said depicted Minuteman members rounding up border crossers.
Chris Simcox, state director of the Minuteman group, said the videos were misleading.
He said his organization does not detain illegal immigrants. And Simcox said the group does background checks on applicants to weed out members of hate groups.
Sinema ultimately conceded to Simcox that she had no evidence that members of his organization are racists.
Sinema’s legislation would have made it a felony for someone not affiliated with law enforcement to patrol to “detect alleged illegal activity” while armed.
Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Chandler, said Sinema’s legislation ignores basic constitutional rights. “The Minutemen, I believe, have First and Second Amendment rights to be there, to carry their weapons, the right to assemble, freedom of speech,” he said.
Sinema, however, said those rights are not absolute. For example, state law prohibits people from carrying weapons onto school grounds.
Monday’s hearing resulted in about a dozen additional police officers in and around the House hearing room because of threats to Sinema after she introduced her bill.