By RYAN VAN VELZER | Associated Press

PHOENIX (AP) – The Republican-controlled Legislature passed bills Thursday expanding gun owners' rights to carry concealed weapons in public places while limiting the state's ability to regulate firearms transfers.

Arizona's Second Amendment protections are among the strongest in the nation. The state's stand-your-ground and constitutional-carry laws have contributed to it winning Guns & Ammo magazine's "best state for gun owners'' for the last two years.

Republican legislators are working to retain that title with a series of bills that include one that would prevent cities and towns from enforcing federal gun laws, another that would make it a felony to wrestle a gun from someone's hands, and a proposal to legalize sawed-off shotguns and silencers.

A bill by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, would allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their weapons into public buildings such as public libraries while excluding bars, hospitals, high schools and universities. "We're talking about specifically those who are licensed, who've had background checks and who've been fingerprinted. We know these are not the bad guys,'' she said.

More than 230,000 Arizona residents have concealed-carry permits, according to a Department of Public Safety report from March.

Barton said her bill obligates public establishments to take care of residents or let them care of themselves. "Well if you're going to take away somebody's constitutional right to be self-protected, then you need to protect them,'' Barton said.

House Bill 2320 would require operators of public establishments such as libraries to allow permit-holders to carry their firearms or establish security guards and metal detectors at the facility.

Brewer vetoed similar legislation three times in four years. In 2014, Brewer cited concerns about the fiscal impact on state and local governments. She called the bill "an unnecessary diversion of limited resources.

Maricopa County found that if it prohibited firearms from all 378 county buildings that don't have security, it would cost $47 million in ongoing costs and $9 million in setup costs, according to legislative analysts.

House Bill 2320 passed on a 33-25 vote, and it now moves to the Senate.

While Barton's bill broadens the state's Second Amendment protections, Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, sponsored legislation to limit who can change those laws. Thorpe's proposal creates a state compact that would prevent member states from creating firearms-transfer laws that are more restrictive than federal law.

"It's basically saying we don't want any laws passed at the state level that exceed what the feds are already telling us to do,'' Thorpe said.

If passed, Arizona would be the first state to enact the compact, but it wouldn't go into effect until at least one other state joins.

House Bill 2431 repeals any laws or regulations in conflict with the compact in member states and nullifies any current or future law or voter initiative that would be in conflict with the compact.

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said the bill takes away the rights of voters and the Legislature to govern itself. "The so-called firearms compact is an attack on the citizen's right to initiative in our state constitution,'' he said.

Thorpe's bill passed on a 34-24 vote, and it now moves to the Senate.