PHOENIX -- A Senate panel set the stage Wednesday for a confrontation between state and federal law enforcement over gun laws.
On a party line vote, the Public Safety Committee approved a measure to make it a felony for any federal official, agent or employee to enforce "any act, order, law, statute, rule or regulation' dealing with personal firearms, accessories like magazines and ammunition that is owned commercially or privately in Arizona and remains within its borders. The same prohibition would apply to guns and accessories manufactured in Arizona.
Violators would be guilty of a Class 6 felony.
Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, said SB 1112 is, in a way, a line in the sand following the Obama administration asking for new laws and regulations in the wake of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Among those proposals are a ban on assault-style weapons and a limit on the number of rounds that can be in a magazine.
"I am very impassioned about Arizona states' rights and the overreach that I feel that the federal
government has put into many aspects of running our state,' she told colleagues. "And firearms -- personal firearms in particular -- are just one of those ways that they're reaching down into the state, especially after tragedies have happened.'
But with that felony penalty -- and a possible one-year term in state prison -- Sen. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, said this is more than just a statement. More to the point, he questioned exactly how such a law would be enforced.
"I believe that the process that would follow as in any case when laws are being broken,' Ward responded.
"Say a federal official comes to confiscate a gun that they feel that the magazine is too big or it looks the wrong way ... that person can call our Arizona law enforcement in their area,' she explained. "And that law enforcement will have the right to enforce this law on the federal official who is attempting to encroach on us.'
And Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, brushed aside concerns that there might be some conflict between state and federal authorities.
"There are a thousand years of tradition that the county sheriff is the sovereign law enforcement official in any realm,' he said. And Shooter said that even trumps the authority of an FBI agent.
"The county sheriff can toss him right out if he wants to,' he said.
Shooter conceded, though, that actually getting the case into court, much less a conviction, might be a different matter.
"I didn't say we weren't going to have a little scrap over it, maybe,' he said. "We'll take it to court and see what happens.
A more practical question, however, may be what happens at the time of the complaint. Ward, however, said she sees no reason why a sheriff's deputy cannot -- and will not -- arrest and handcuff a federal agent trying to enforce a federal law.
"If that's what's made into statute, then I would expect them to enforce whatever laws are there,' she told Capitol Media Services after the hearing. And Ward said she does not foresee an FBI or other federal agent putting up a fight.
"I would hope he, as a law enforcement official, would behave as he would expect other people that he were arresting for violations of the law,' she said.
Another section of the legislation, clearly aimed at what is happening in Washington, declares that any federal law, rule, regulation or order effective this year or beyond "is unenforceable within the borders of this state' if it bans or restrict the ownership of semiautomatic firearms or any magazine, or requires that any gun or accessory "be registered in any manner.'
"The federal government has taken liberties that they are not at liberty to take, especially encroaching on our Second Amendment rights,' Ward said. "So I believe Arizona needs to stand up to that effect.'
And Shooter reacted angrily to Ableser's comment that Arizona is trying to skirt the supremacy of federal laws.
"The states are sovereign,' he said. "That's why we call it the United States.'
Ward's legislation also has a separate section which makes it illegal for any state "public servant' to enforce the same kind of federal gun laws. But there is no penalty for those who choose to ignore the statute.
That list of public servants, for the moment, includes judges and jurors. But Ward said she will strip them from the measure when it goes to the full Senate, saying no one in either group is actually involved in enforcing gun laws.
But Ward intends to leave in language including state legislators in that ban, saying that, even without a penalty, that needs to be included.
"I would hope that we would vote to not uphold anything that didn't uphold the Second Amendment, as a body, because we swore an oath on Jan. 14 (the first day of the session) to uphold our Constitution, both the United States and the Arizona constitutions,' she said.
Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, has introduced an identical measure in the House which has not yet been set for a hearing.