Arizona bill could allow use of ‘rat shot’ for urban pest control

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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 a Republican legislation set for debate Tuesday.

A group of scientists opposed to state Rep. Jay Lawrence's 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.

Lawrence says it's about gun rights. Gun-rights advocates back House Bill 2022, which drew opposition from wildlife advocates and residents worried about stray gunfire.

The proposal changes a landmark 2000 law against celebratory gunfire that passed after a stray bullet struck and killed a Phoenix teen. The law made it a felony to fire a gun within city limits.

There is an exemption in the law that allows people to shoot nuisance wildlife, but opponents argued at a House committee hearing last month that the new measure will encourage more gunfire in cities and towns.

"This is a public safety concern," Phoenix-area resident Tiffany Sprague testified. "There's a proper method of moving snakes, but shooting at them is not one of them."

Sandy Bahr of the Arizona chapter of the Sierra Club echoed that sentiment and urged lawmakers not to approve the bill. She said most snakes just move on, while a herpetologist testified that many snake bites occur when people are trying to kill or capture them.

"This sends a very bad message about our wonderful native wildlife," Bahr said. "We are so lucky we have native snakes throughout our state, and we should encourage people to learn about them and value them and avoid them."

Richard Mack, a former sheriff who opposes gun laws, said he worries about trends that criminalize people for normal behavior.

"This original law does that and this law that Mr. Lawrence has proposed diminishes that," he testified last month. "For my wife and daughter, I would expect they would be allowed to use this. It is the safest way to kill something in your yard."

For his part, Lawrence said the bill is about ammunition and gun rights, not killing snakes or rats. He said a BB gun shoots farther and higher than the type of ammunition he's looking to legalize for use inside city limits.

"It has nothing whatever to do with snakes or rats," he said Monday. "That is merely the description of the caliber of shot -- it's a firearms bill, it's not a rat or snake bill."