By David Schwartz
PHOENIX, April 16 (Reuters) - Arizona lawmakers, stepping into the contentious national gun control debate, approved a controversial measure on Tuesday mandating that cities and counties resell firearms turned in during gun buyback programs rather than melt them down.
The Republican-controlled Arizona state Senate voted 18-12 to no longer allowed firearms to be destroyed by local municipalities, saying it was a waste of taxpayer money. The state House approved the bill in March.
The measure must now be signed or vetoed by Republican Governor Jan Brewer, a staunch gun rights advocate. A spokesman for the governor declined comment on the fate of the legislation late on Tuesday.
State Senator Rick Murphy, a Republican, said destroying the turned-in weapons was a waste of money that could be generated by these gun sales and has urged his colleagues to cast aside the "emotional rhetoric" raised when the issue of guns comes up for public debate.
But Democratic State Senator Steve Gallardo said Arizona needs to stop wasting its time on such bills and embark on a serious discussion about guns.
"We should have a serious debate on firearm safety and accessibility," Gallardo said. "We have the most liberal gun laws in the nation and that has to stop. We need to start working on how to get guns out of the hands of criminals."
Gallardo had proposed 17 amendments to the bill to try to force the debate, ranging from universal background checks to bans on large ammunition magazines. All of them failed.
Arizona has become front and center in the larger gun debate being played out across the nation, sparked by a mass shooting outside a Tucson supermarket in 2011 that killed six people and left former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded.
That national debate intensified this past December after a gunman shot dead 26 people, including 20 children, at a rampage at a Connecticut elementary school.
Since the Connecticut massacre, Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, have jumped into the gun debate by forming the non-profit Americans for Responsible Solutions and advocating for changes in federal gun laws.
On a national level, the U.S. Senate has scheduled a vote on Wednesday for a bipartisan proposal for expanded background checks for gun buyers, but it appeared short on Tuesday of the 60 votes needed to clear the Senate. (Editing by David Bailey, Cynthia Johnston and Lisa Shumaker)