Arizona politician on defensive after reporter says she aimed loaded gun at him

Liz Goodwin
The Lookout

A reporter for the Arizona Republic writes in a profile of state senator Lori Klein that the politician pulled a loaded, raspberry-pink handgun from a special zippered case and aimed it straight at his chest during an interview.

The revelation--mentioned off-hand in the original story--has now created a media firestorm about gun safety, and a potential PR headache for gun advocates.

Richard Ruelas writes that Klein said "Oh it's so cute," before aiming the pistol square at his chest so he could see the red laser sight beam appear on his body. It probably didn't help the often adversarial character of relations between the press and political leaders for Ruelas to learn that the .380 Ruger in question had no safety.

"I just didn't have my hand on the trigger," Klein told the reporter, by way of reassurance.

Ruelas was writing about the freshman lawmaker's controversial move of carrying her pistol into the Statehouse just two days after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Tucson, was shot in the head while at a "Congress on Your Corner" event in January. Guards tried to stop Klein from going in with the weapon, but she insisted on her right to carry, and the incident became something of a crusade for the pro-gun movement. Since then, Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce has lifted a weapons ban in the Senate building, despite an existing state  law that bans guns in government buildings.

Even though Klein says she is standing up for people's right to bear arms, some local gun-rights advocates took issue with her antics according to a report  in the Arizona Guardian.

"Whoever would do something like that needs to have a better grounding in gun safety before ever laying a hand on a firearm," Rob Mermelstein of the Phoenix Rod and Gun Club told the paper. He said the incident was bad PR for the gun-rights movement.

"I kind of cringed when I read that she had done that," Senate Ethics Rule Chair Ron Gould, a Republican, told the Capitol Times. "She wasn't brandishing the weapon. I think she just thought it would be cute to shine the laser sight on the reporter. I personally don't like seeing that kind of thing—because that's how people get killed."

In a follow-up story, the Arizona Republic writes that Klein at first denied pointing the gun at Ruelas, telling the Arizona Capitol Times that he sat down in front of where she was pointing it. But in a later statement issued through the Senate, Klein doesn't mention that version of events, only saying she won't comment any more so as not "to contribute to a media feeding frenzy that is driven by a few individuals who never miss the opportunity to advance an anti-2nd-Amendment agenda." She said she had cleared the gun's chamber before displaying it.

Ruelas says he didn't realize the gun was loaded until later in the interview, and that their exchange was friendly and amicable. Their exchange was recorded on tape, which the paper says backs up Ruelas' reporting of the incident.

We'll update this post when Klein responds to our request for comment.