The growing list of states looking to trump federal gun laws by drafting bills that would see those laws reign supreme continues to grow as Utah state Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, carries his bill with a long note attached explaining why it’s likely unconstitutional.
Officials at the National Conference of State Legislatures began tracking bills that shared a similar theme to Greene’s — a response to fears the federal government would curb gun rights through passage of sweeping measures including a ban on assault weapons, reduced magazine-round capacity and tougher background checks.
Jon Griffin, policy associate with the NCSL, said the movement toward pushing these states-rights gun laws appeared to be organic initially.
"They’re starting to get a little more uniform now," Griffin said. "At first, they were all over the board."
He said he hadn’t done a complete analysis, but a list provided by the NCSL showed Wyoming’s version had already passed in the House of Representatives and is now awaiting action in the Senate. Gov. Matt Mead has publicly expressed concerns about the legislation.
There are 22 states attempting to pass a variation on what Greene pitched with HB114. His measure would give local police authority to arrest federal agents attempting to take guns away from residents. It also would require the attorney general to provide a legal defense for federal agents who were caught up in an attempt to take firearms — a felony under Greene’s proposal. The legal analysis on HB114 — titled "Second Amendment Protection Act" — is that it would be in violation of the supremacy and commerce clauses of the Constitution.
Some states like Mississippi have seen several variations on this measure die in committee and some states like Colorado have tempered their versions by having it only apply to firearms manufactured within the state boundaries.
Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jim Dabakis, who is also a state senator from Salt Lake City, viewed the trend warily.
"I believe the U.S. Constitution is sacred and it makes clear who is subservient to who," Dabakis said.
In its overview of states’ ability to engage in nullification on gun laws, the NCSL noted it’s never been upheld by the courts. Nullification is when a state attempts to reject federal law by declaring it void and unenforceable.
The NCSL said in its paper the "nullification theory is unequivocal — states do not have the unilateral power to pass state laws that invalidate federal laws."
But House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said she understands why measures like this bubble up to the statehouse level. And though she said she wanted to take a wait-and-see approach on Greene’s proposal, she could understand the underlying sentiment driving it.
"Our rights are guaranteed by the rights of the Constitution," she said. "Utah is very clear on the Second Amendment and we need to rely on that language and on the rights we have as they exist today. I’m comfortable with those."
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