PHOENIX — An Arizona lawmaker invited a bulletproof vest retailer to do a demonstration at the state Capitol but canceled the event on Monday after a legislative lawyer advised him that making a sales pitch to lawmakers on state property was improper.
Freshman Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe called his idea a "rookie mistake" and said he instead plans to provide contact information for the retailer to fellow members of the Arizona House and Senate.
"In the future, before I set something like this up I'll certainly go out and I'll talk to some folks that have been around longer than me and just make sure that I'm not doing something that might look like it was inappropriate," he said.
Thorpe said he wanted to provide Democratic and Republican members safety options in light of the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2011 and the recent fatal shooting of a Texas prosecutor and his wife. He sent the email to all House and Senate members last Thursday inviting them to visit the Capitol basement on Wednesday to be fitted for a vest if they wanted to buy one.
"In the wake of Tucson shooting, I have been researching body armor in order to inform our members about the costs and options for those wishing to purchase a vest for their personal use, for example, at town halls, parades and other public events," the email said.
Thorpe, from Flagstaff in northern Arizona, was criticized by Democratic state Rep. Ruben Gallego, a former Marine who served in the Iraq war.
"We're here to be in the public, and it's not our job to be paranoid all the time thinking that someone is out to get us," Gallego told abc15.com. "I think the best defense is actually to have a good, well-trained police force and some good gun laws."
He later told the AP that lawmakers should be focusing on developing a good school safety plan, and he noted that the body armor demonstration comes as Republican state senators have opposed a bill that bans armor piercing bullets.
"It's just kind of emblematic of the bigger problem that a lot of our representatives on the GOP side have: When we introduce crazy bills, we end up on The Daily Show," he said.
"The last thing we want people to think is that this is one big shooting gallery. It's not, it's a good place to live and raise your kids and retire."
Thorpe said he's not suggesting that lawmakers come to work armed, as some have done in recent years. He just said he believed fellow legislators might feel safer in some situations with body armor.
Thorpe said he understands that some might criticize the move, especially since the Legislature has rejected every effort to tighten gun laws in Arizona in recent years. But he said his view is that mental health issues are behind most violent events, like Giffords' shooting.
"I support people owning guns and doing that lawfully, but we've got some wackos out there," he said.
Thorpe said he's supporting a stalled effort in the state Legislature to appropriate $250,000 to expand a program to train teachers, first-responders and others to recognize people having a mental health crisis and intervene. Giffords' attacker, Jared Lee Loughner, suffered from mental illness.
While rejecting gun control measures, he said he's open to more action on keeping the mentally ill from obtaining guns.
"I'm very interested in trying to pass some piece of legislation which would cause our government officials, whether its teachers or law enforcement, to keep track of people where's there's red flags being raised," he said. "And that certainly didn't happen with Loughner."