Arizona is a place where you can get a family photograph with Santa holding an AK-47, where state lawmakers point pink pistols at reporters, and where men tote AR-15s to political protests. And if one state representative gets his way, gun-loving Arizonans won't have to worry about pesky federal gun control laws, because it will be illegal to enforce them.
Republican state Rep. Steve Smith proposed a bill last week that would prohibit public officials in the state from following any federal gun laws or regulations, fearing an effort by the Obama administration to impose harsh new restrictions on firearms. That means no background checks, no restrictions on automatic weapons or grenade launchers, and no prohibition on sale to the mentally ill, unless the state enacts its own restrictions, none of which are laid out in Smith’s bill.
While there is no penalty specified for state and local officials who follow federal law, federal judges or law enforcement agents would face felony charges punishable by up to a year in state prison. "Here's a line in the sand: Thanks, but no thanks. Stay out with your federal regulations you're going to impose on us," Smith said.
HB 2291 would almost certainly be unconstitutional, as federal law trumps state law, and Smith acknowledged that there would probably be legal challenges that would have to be worked out in the courts. But he appears to be trying to get around this problem by making his legislation apply only to firearms that are manufactured in and never leave the state of Arizona, presumably in an attempt to thwart the Commerce Clause, which allows Congress to regulate interstate trade. Still, the Supreme Court has not been sympathetic to similar arguments.
And the Constitution isn’t Smith’s only problem; he’s catching some friendly fire too. Todd Rathner, an Arizona resident who sits on the board of the National Rifle Association, told the Capitol News Service that he doesn’t like the bill because of what it would do to gun dealers, who must receive federal licenses and comply with federal regulations.
"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."
Indeed, Smith's law specifies that firearms dealers would be barred from following the regulations mandated by the federal government to maintain their license. Still, Rathner said of Smith’s proposal, "I like the message he's trying to send."
Arizona isn’t the only state considering what amounts to a lite form of secession over guns. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant and state House Speaker Philip Gunn have both said they intend to block any new Obama executive orders on gun control. South Carolina lawmakers have made similar moves as well. But Arizona’s law goes much further, by not only restricting new regulations but also all existing ones, targeting "any act, law, statute, rule or regulation" from Washington on guns.
Also, keep in mind that the NRA’s objection to the legislation is not that it is unconstitutional or that it might make it easier for criminals to acquire weapons, but that it would hurt firearms dealers. If Smith rewrote the law to exempt dealers, one wonders if the NRA would be OK with the rest of it.