Lawmaker promotes state's rights over federal gun laws

PHOENIX -- Fearing new federal laws and regulations, a state legislator wants to provide legal cover for Arizonans who do not want to obey them -- and penalties for federal officials who try to enforce them.

The proposal by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa makes it illegal for any public servant to enforce "any act, law, statute, rule or regulation' of the federal government relating to personal firearms or accessories as long as they remain within the boundaries of Arizona. And it defines public servants to include not just state and local employees but legislators, judges, jurors, witnesses and consultants who perform government functions.

Another provision puts the same prohibition on federally licensed firearms dealers.

But HB 2291 contains no penalties for either public servants or dealers. Smith said it instead would provide a defense of sorts for those who believe the Second Amendment precludes any new rules.

That, however, is not the case for another provision which would make it a felony, punishable by a year in state prison, for federal employees or officials who try to enforce those same laws or regulations.

The move comes as the president has asked Congress to approve new restrictions on assault-style weapons as well as limits on magazine capacity. And Obama also laid out 23 separate executive orders related to gun safety.

Smith said his legislation, if approved, would pave the way for legislative lawyers to determine if there's "wiggle room' to ignore both those statutes and any regulations.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, chided Smith for pushing such a broad-based state ban even before any of what is in the president's orders has been flushed out to see how they would work -- and before Congress has yet to act on anything.

"He's ceding to this paranoia that is out there that somehow the president and Washington are going to take their guns,' he said.

But Smith's proposal also is raising some concern by Todd Rathner, a board member of the National Rifle Association, albeit for different reasons.

"I like the message he's trying to send,' Rather said Monday. But the Tucson resident said he has "real concerns' about how such a state law would affect federally licensed firearms dealers who would be put in a position of whether to obey state or federal laws.

"I worry about putting federal firearms licensees in the middle of a fight between us and the federal government,' he said. "It puts them between a rock and a hard place because they worry about committing a federal crime or a state crime.'

And the issues, Rathner said, are more than academic.

"If they don't follow the federal laws ... they're going to have their license yanked,' he said. "So they're not going to get guns from the manufacturers.'

Dave Kopp, a lobbyist with the Arizona Citizens Defense League agreed with Rathner that he likes the concept. But Kopp said it remains to be seen whether such a measure, were it to pass, is legal, predicting a court battle.

Smith conceded that, in a straight test between federal laws and state laws, the former is likely to prevail. Where he said his measure may be more effective is on any action the president takes on his own.

Obama announced he will be issuing executive orders dealing with background checks, doing studies on gun violence and taking steps to what could be new safety standards for weapons. Smith said in those cases, a state law would have more effect than anything the president would do on his own, or any regulation a federal agency enacts without a specific law mandating it.

"I don't know that an agency can arbitrarily change a rule so dramatically without congressional approval,' he said.

Smith said it would be one thing if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were making a technical change, like a fee increase.

"We're fundamentally changing the scope of the Second Amendment in many people's eyes,' he said. "And I don't know that an agency can do that.'

Smith said he is sending a message to the president and Congress.

"Here's a line in the sand: Thanks, but no thanks. Stay out with your federal regulations you're going to impose on us,' he said.

Smith acknowledged the problem his legislation could create for federally licensed firearms dealers. That's because his prohibition against enforcing federal laws and rules would extend to them.

That would mean dealers who comply with state law would be risking the loss of their federal license and right to sell guns.

But he said that, without a specific penalty, firearms dealers fearing federal sanctions could ignore the state law without fear of state penalties.

Rathner, however, said that provides little comfort.

"Placing any further burden on a federal firearms licensee in terms of compliance with any law gives me great pause,' he said.

"They already have a book 5-inches thick they have to comply with in terms of federal laws,' Rathner explained. "Do we really want to place another state burden on an FFL?'

Gallego predicted that the measure goes too far even for the Republican majority in both the state House and Senate. And he suggested that even Smith realizes that, saying it's designed to get attention rather than enactment.

"It just brings another black eye to Arizona so Steve Smith can go to his local tea party and thump on his chest and show how tough he is,' Gallego said.

By Howard Fischer

Capitol Media Services



PHOENIX -- A proposal to make it illegal for some Arizonans to enforce federal gun laws is raising concern by the nation's largest defender of the Second Amendment.

Todd Rathner of the National Rifle Association said he appreciates the sentiment behind the proposal by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, to provide some protection for those who believe that new laws and regulations being proposed by the president are illegal.

"I like the message he's trying to send,' said Rathner. But the Tucson resident said Monday he has "real concerns' about how such a state law would affect federally licensed firearms dealers who would be put in a position of whether to obey state or federal laws.

"I worry about putting federal firearms licensees in the middle of a fight between us and the federal government,' he said. "It puts them between a rock and a hard place because they worry about committing a federal crime or a state crime.'

The legislation comes just days after President Obama announced a series of executive orders designed to deal with gun violence. And the president also asked Congress for new restrictions on certain types of guns and magazines.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Tucson, chided Smith for what he said is a knee-jerk reaction.

He said no one knows exactly how the president's orders would work. And Gallego also pointed out that Congress has yet to act on anything.

"He's ceding to this paranoia that is out there that somehow the president and Washington are going to take their guns,' he said.

HB 2291 would make it illegal for any public servant to enforce federal laws or rules about firearms that remain within the state's boundaries. What specifically concerns Rathner is that prohibition also would apply to federally licensed firearms dealers.

"If they don't follow the federal laws ... they're going to have their license yanked,' he said. "So they're not going to get guns from the manufacturers.'

Smith acknowledged the problem his legislation could create for federally licensed firearms dealers.

But he pointed out that his measure contains no penalty for either public servants or dealers who ignore its provisions. Smith that means firearms dealers fearing federal sanctions could ignore the state law without fear of state penalties.

Rathner, however, said that provides little comfort.

"Placing any further burden on a federal firearms licensee in terms of compliance with any law gives me great pause,' he said.

"They already have a book 5-inches thick they have to comply with in terms of federal laws,' Rathner explained. "Do we really want to place another state burden on an FFL?'

But Charles Heller, a spokesman for the Arizona Citizens Defense League said he sees one benefit to what Smith is trying to do: Get the issue in front of a judge.

Heller said anyone challenging a federal law needs legal "standing' to bring such a case. He said anyone who is forced to choose between conflicting state and federal laws automatically has such standing.

One section of Smith's legislation, though, does have a penalty: Any federal official or agent who sought to enforce new federal firearms laws and rules in Arizona could be found guilty of a felony and sent to prison.

Gallego said he believes Smith's measure goes too far even for the Republican majority in both the state House and Senate. And he suggested that even Smith realizes that, saying it's designed to get attention rather than enactment.

"It just brings another black eye to Arizona so Steve Smith can go to his local tea party and thump on his chest and show how tough he is,' Gallego said.

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