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Bill seeks to keep gun enforcement under state purview

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 6 2013 9:40 p.m. MST

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SALT LAKE CITY — As gun control debates boil across the nation, a Utah lawmaker is fighting to keep such laws at the state level.

Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, is sponsoring HB114, the Second Amendment Preservation Act, which grants the state the singular right to enforce firearm regulations and stipulates that anyone attempting to enforce federal laws would be subject to prosecution.

The bill goes on to stipulate that any official, agent or employee of the federal government attempting to enforce federal regulations in the state could be charged with a third-degree felony. That includes enforcement of limits on firearm manufacture, ownership or sale, as well as limits on firearm accessories or ammunition.  

However, Greene maintains that the bill's purpose is not to arrest federal agents, many of whom are Utah residents. And he's quick to point out the bill does not include any instructions to carry out arrests.

The bill also is not exclusively concerned with the Second Amendment, he said.

The bigger issue, Greene argues, is states' rights, as President Barack Obama proposes gun law reform without adequate consideration of what state governments have to say.

"The message was sent that the federal government was going to do this despite the states and without any … input from the states," he said. "So this is how we respond as a state if we're not going to be invited to the table, if we're not going to have our jurisdiction respected."

Since introducing the bill, which Greene said received an "overwhelmingly positive" response from the House, messages from constituents have been mostly supportive, he said. 

However, the bill's legislative review note acknowledges that a court would likely decide the bill violates supremacy and commerce clauses of federal statutes, particularly by contradicting current federal regulations and in its attempt to criminalize the actions of federal agents attempting to enforce gun laws.

A court faced with prosecuting a federal officer charged with attempting to enforce federal regulations would likely declare the case unenforceable, in deference to federal law, the note adds. 

Greene said the note spells out only the weaknesses of the bill without considering its overall constitutionality. He said he believes the legislation could still pass despite its shortcomings.

"I think (the note) is a minor consideration," Greene said. "I don't think that should be the determining factor."

HB114 is one of seven at the 2013 Legislature relating to weapons, including proposed legislation clarifying concealed carry exemptions, penalties for threats of terrorism and target shooting and wildfire regulations.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said all gun-related bills would likely be heard on the same day to help lawmakers sort through them, though it's not clear when the hearing on Greene's bill and any other gun-related legislation from the House will be scheduled. Lockhart said leaders are waiting to see what else may be filed.

The speaker said she's not sure whether to expect a repeat of the nearly 3,000 people who gathered on the steps of the Capitol last month to rally against new federal restrictions on gun ownership.

"I guess that's up to those groups who are interested in that issue," she said.

Lockhart said she's already received a number of emails urging support for Greene's proposal.

"People feel very strongly," she said. 

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, defended Utahns who fear the federal government is moving closer to taking away their weapons.

"Paranoia runs deep. We all have concerns about where the federal government is going," Dee said. "I don't think they're paranoid. I think they're very, very concerned."

Lockhart said she doesn't see the federal government coming for anyone's gun anytime soon, but there is potential for gun rights to be eroded. The speaker said rather than react to that concern, she probably leans more toward a "wait and see and then respond" reaction.

Contributing: Lisa Riley Roche

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com
Twitter: McKenzieRomero

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