PHOENIX - With the threat of new federal gun control laws and regulations looming, a state legislator wants to provide legal cover for Arizonans who do not want to obey them - and penalize 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 within the boundaries of Arizona. It defines public servants to include not just state and local employees but also legislators, judges, jurors, witnesses and consultants who perform government functions.
Another provision extends the prohibition to include federally licensed firearms dealers.
There would be no penalty for any of those individuals for violating the proposed law. Smith said HB 2291 would instead provide a defense for those who believe the Second Amendment precludes any new rules.
However, for federal employees or officials, another provision would make it a felony, punishable by a year in state prison, to enforce those same gun regulations.
The move follows the president having asked Congress to approve new restrictions on assault-style weapons as well as limits on magazine capacity. Obama also laid out 23 separate executive orders related to gun safety.
Smith said his legislation 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 action, even before any of what is in the president's orders has been fleshed 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," Rathner said Monday. But the Tucson resident said he has "real concerns" about the position that would put federally licensed firearms dealers in.
"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 issue, Rathner said, is 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, also likes the concept, but said it will likely take a court battle to determine whether the measure is legal, if it passes.
Smith conceded in a conflict between federal and state laws, the federal 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 is issuing executive orders dealing with background checks, doing studies on gun violence and taking steps toward what could be new safety standards for weapons. Smith said in those cases, were the president is acting on his own with no specific law backing his position, a state law would have more effect.
"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.
But he said 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 a firearms licensee?
Gallego predicted the measure goes too far, even for the Republican majority in both the state House and Senate. He suggested 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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