Shaun McClusky said the program modeled after one recently launched in Houston would provide training and enough money to buy a basic shotgun to residents who pass background checks, the Arizona Daily Star reported Wednesday.
Donors have committed about $12,000 to the program that McClusky said could start handing out guns within 60 days, the newspaper said.
McClusky said citizens need to do more to protect themselves because city government is failing to do the job.
"We need to take back our city, and it needs to come back to the citizens and not the criminals," he said.
Several City Council members said the effort is out of touch with community needs and values,
"To suggest that giving away . loaded shotguns in high-crime areas will make anybody safer is pure idiocy," Councilman Steve Kozachik said.
Kozachik has previously supported gun buyback programs and proposed a city ordinance to require gun owners to promptly report lost or missing guns.
Councilwoman Regina Romero said the Midvale neighborhood, one of the areas identified by McClusky, is a safe place where residents "don't need a gun to survive."
McClusky estimated it would cost about $375 to arm each person. The figure would include about $200 for each single-shot shotgun along with a box of ammunition, training and background checks.
McClusky said he learned of the fledgling Houston effort known as the Armed Citizen Project and thought it would be perfect for Tucson.
Travis Pratt, an Arizona State University professor of criminology and criminal justice, said studies have shown that guns increase crime, not decrease it.
However, Pratt said it's unlikely the program proposed in Tucson would increase gun violence since the weapons involved would be shotguns with limited appeal to criminals.
Participation in the effort would be voluntary. Towns across the country have generally refrained from requiring gun ownership.
However, towns in Idaho, Utah, Virginia and Pennsylvania have passed ordinances recommending gun ownership.
McClusky withdrew from the 2011 Tucson mayoral race because of questions about his ballot eligibility.