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 or accessories like magazines and ammunition that is commercially or privately owned or 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's asking for new laws and regulations in the wake of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. The president's proposals include 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 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 a felony penalty - and a possible one-year term in state prison - Sen. Ed Ableser, D-Tempe, said this is more than just a statement and questioned how such a law would be enforced.
"Say a federal official comes to confiscate a gun that they feel that the magazine is too big or it looks the wrong way," Ward responded. "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."
Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, rejected concerns there might be a 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, which even trumps the authority of an FBI agent.
"The county sheriff can toss him right out if he wants to," he said.
Shooter conceded getting such a case into court, much less a conviction, might be a challenge.
"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."
Ward said she sees no reason why a sheriff's deputy cannot 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 said after the hearing, adding she does not foresee an FBI or other federal agent putting up a fight.
Another section of the legislation, clearly aimed at what is happening in Washington, declares any federal law, rule, regulation or order effective this year or beyond "is unenforceable within the borders of this state" if it bans or restricts the ownership of semiautomatic firearms or any magazine, or requires that any gun or accessory be registered.
"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."
Ward's legislation also has a section making 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.
Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, has introduced an identical measure in the House that has not yet been set for a hearing.