Okay, technically the title of the legislation is the Firearms Preemption Enforcement Act, but the purpose of the bill that passed out of the Utah House of Representatives on Tuesday is really a sanctuary measure by another name. The purpose of Second Amendment sanctuaries, after all, is to prevent as much as possible the enforcement of unconstitutional gun control laws, and that too is the goal of HB 76, which would establish the state legislature as the ultimate authority over gun laws in the state, including any and all federal gun controls.
“Any regulation, in the state of Utah, as it relates to firearms, is the prerogative of the state,” bill sponsor Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, told the House Judiciary Committee Monday. Maloy ran similar legislation, HB271, last year but it died in the Senate on the last day of the session.
HB76 passed the House 56-16 Tuesday with a vote mostly along party lines. Democratic Rep. Ashlee Matthews, of West Jordan, was the only one to break from her party and voted in favor of the bill.
Most of the handful of Democrats serving in the Utah House objected to the measure on the grounds that state statute can’t preempt federal law.
House Minority Leader Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, was worried about the legal repercussions of Utah ignoring federal firearms legislation.
“It’s a well-settled area of constitutional law: Congress passes a law that regulates gun use, or ownership or purpose. We simply do not have the power to preempt that or disregard that,” King said. “I do think inclusion of this language … creates real problems and likely litigation and the cost to taxpayers associated with that.”
But Maloy says there is precedent for disregarding federal rules.
“We feel like it’s going to be very similar to our marijuana laws,” Maloy said. “We’ve really relaxed those laws here in Utah to provide for medical marijuana. But most of the actions that take place in that new industry, here in Utah, are against federal law, and that the federal agencies pretty much don’t enforce those.”
It’s an interesting argument, though I wonder why the medical marijuana legislation in Utah didn’t contain a similar warning that federal law would be disregarded in the state. On the other hand, Maloy is correct in noting that the federal government has generally taken a hands-off approach to marijuana sales and operations that are legal under state law, though the feds still have the power to come in and enforce their laws against individual users or grow operations that have all the required state permits. They’re not doing so out of some respect for federalism, but because it would be a public relations disaster.
In that respect, Maloy may be on to something, because it would be equally as disastrous for the federal government to try to impose a sweeping gun ban or other infringements on the rights of legal gun owners in most states of the union. They could get away with it in deep-blue Democratic-controlled cities, but it would be a far different story in America’s suburbs and rural areas.
Of course the bill doesn’t just address federal gun control laws. It would also preempt localities and counties from passing their own laws. Utah already has a firearms preemption law on the books, but one Second Amendment activist in the state says HB 76 provides even stronger protection than what exists now.
The bill would have the Utah attorney general investigate any violations by cities or towns. Maloy said this allows Utahns a recourse if they believe their Second Amendment rights have been infringed upon.
“It strikes a blow for federalism and states rights, which I like,” said Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville. “It’s novel, it’s untried, it’s untested and (preemptive laws) ultimately fall when challenged in a federal court under the U.S. Supremacy Clause.”
Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, said in Monday’s committee hearing “there’s no confusion. There’s no ambiguity when reading these as to the intent the Legislature has, and that they want to jealously guard their ability to be preeminent … regulating all laws regarding firearms.”
This would certainly be uncharted legal waters, but before the bill could be tested in court it needs to pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Spencer Cox. Given that a similar piece of legislation died in the state Senate on the last day of the 2020 session, if Second Amendment supporters want to see this bill become law they should start contacting their state senators now and urge them to support HB 76, both in committee and on the Senate floor.