A controversial bill asserting the supremacy of Utah gun laws over the federal government passed the House on Friday — placing Utah among only a handful of states to get such a measure successfully through a legislative chamber.
Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, asserted his Second Amendment Preservation Act isn’t a gun bill but is instead a states’ rights measure that looks to stave off what he sees as encroachment by the federal government on firearm laws.
"We don’t know what the federal government is going to do with sweeping gun regulations," Greene said. "But we can look back and see what the history has been in terms of federal encroachment on state jurisdictions — even on the inalienable right of our citizens."
The bill asserts that legal primacy on firearms and ammunition rests with the state, not the federal government.
But Greene insisted his bill isn’t "reactionary" to proposals by President Barack Obama that seek to reduce magazine capacity on guns and put more rigorous background checks into place.
HB114 passed 49-17 but likely faces a tougher challenge on the other side of the Capitol. Senate President Wayne Niederhauser said several days ago he’d like to see Greene’s bill vetted by a Senate committee — but those ended Thursday headed into next week’s adjournment.
"We’re going to be very cautious" with the bill," Niederhauser said Friday.
The bill has also morphed from its original version. The biggest change was removal of the requirement for local police to arrest federal agents attempting to seize guns from Utah residents.
Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, successfully changed the bill on the House floor again by requiring a judicial review in instances where state law conflicts with federal law on guns.
He said he worried about scenarios that might put local police in the position of trying to stop FBI or DEA agents attempting to execute warrants on criminal investigations.
"I’m quite concerned with a scenario that has been described as ‘dueling police officers,’ " Powell said.
Powell also suggested that if Greene wanted to send a message to the federal government, he should have drafted a non-binding resolution instead.
The bill, even with the removal of its controversial component of requiring the arrest of federal agents, still had a constitutional note attached to it saying the law would likely be challenged in court over the Commerce and Supremacy clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
Greene said the measure is necessary to safeguard the rights of the state.
"This is prudent," Greene said. "We should adopt this legislation so we are in the best position if the time comes to protect our citizens."
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, said he supported the proposal on "practical" grounds and drew a parallel to the prohibition on alcohol imposed by the federal government and how it created black markets. He also said sweeping federal legislation doesn’t factor in regional cultures and customs.
"Not all states are created equal," Peterson said. "We all have different histories and values."
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Utah joins Alaska, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming in passing a similar measure through one legislative chamber. About two dozen states have had proposals introducing similar bills.
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