On Monday, the state Senate in Arkansas voted to override Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a bill declaring the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968 null and void, as well as making it a misdemeanor crime for state or local law enforcement to cooperate in any way with the enforcement of any federal gun laws. I wrote this morning that the House originally approved the bill by an even larger margin than the Senate, so the votes should be there for an override as well.
Instead, the state House threw a curveball and introduced and approved a brand new piece of legislation, HB 1957, on Tuesday that supposedly addresses Hutchinson’s concerns about the original bill, SB 298.
Immediately after [the vote], Rep. Brandt Smith called for the override of SB 298, which gave rise to HB 1957. Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, who led the creation of HB 1957, spoke against the override saying the substitute bill protected law officers, federal funding of Game and Fish and made other important changes. But a vote on the override was delayed, likely to await Senate action on HB 1957.
On HB 1957, Wardlaw explained it as he did in committee this morning.
He was asked by Rep. Joy Springer why it was necessary. He said his constituents had expressed a lot of fear about what the Biden administration might do — including taxes on ammunition. “This was a way to protect Arkansas from that.” He said Biden had specifically threatened a ban on assault rifles. “We can have them if we want,” he said.
Is the new bill actually likely to address Hutchinson’s problems with the bill? Actually, yes, for the most part. You can read the bill for yourself here, but there a couple of major changes that stand out to me.
First, the attempt to nullify the enforcement of existing federal gun laws has been removed from the legislation. Instead, the bill states that:
All acts, laws, orders, rules, and regulations of the United States Government that were enacted on or after January 1, 2021, that infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Arkansas Constitution, Article 2, § 5, are invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state.
The bill then goes on to list several specific instances that would be considered unconstitutional infringements on our Second Amendment rights.
(1) Any tax, levy, fee, or stamp imposed on firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition not common to all other goods and services that could have a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership of those items by 23 law-abiding citizens that was enacted after January 1, 2021;
(2) Any registering or tracking of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition that could have a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership of those items by law-abiding citizens;
(3) Any registering or tracking of the owners of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition that could have a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership of those items by law-abiding citizens;
(4) Any act forbidding the possession, ownership, use, or transfer of any type of firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition by law abiding citizens; and
(5) Any act ordering the confiscation of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition from law-abiding citizens.
That should cover most of the big wish list items for gun control advocates, though I know many of us would love to see the state legislature extend a giant middle finger to the NFA and GCA. From a practical perspective, though, this change puts the bill on much firmer legal ground.
The new bill also dropped the language about criminal penalties for cops who help enforce federal gun control laws, even against violent offenders. In its place Republicans have substituted a general prohibition on police enforcing or cooperating with the enforcement of any new federal gun control laws.
(c)(1) The following persons shall not enforce or assist federal agencies or officers in the enforcement of any federal statute, executive order, or federal agency directive that conflicts with Arkansas Constitution, Article 2, § 5, or any Arkansas law:
(A) A public officer or employee of this state; or
(B) A representative, agent, or employee of a municipality, a county, or the state, acting under the color of law, with all the rights, grants, and assignments of a law enforcement officer in the state.
(2) The persons and prohibitions described under subdivision (c)(1) of this section include personnel, agents of the state or local government, including volunteers, the use of tax dollars, and persons having authority to enforce or attempt to enforce any of the infringements on the right to keep and bear arms described under subsection (b) of this section.
(d) An elected official who knowingly directs any law enforcement officer to assist a federal law enforcement agency in violating the rights of a person as described under subsection (c) of this section upon conviction is guilty of an unclassified misdemeanor.
(e) A law enforcement officer not described under subdivision (d) of this section who knowingly assists a federal law enforcement agency in violating the rights of a person as described under subsection (c) of this 20 section is subject to being decertified as a law enforcement officer.
That’s an interesting twist. The officer no longer faces the possibility of criminal charges for helping to enforce a federal gun law, but can be decertified and prevented from working as a cop in the state of Arkansas going forward. Meanwhile, the elected official who orders police to cooperate could face criminal sanction, albeit a misdemeanor charge.
That’s actually the one thing I’d tweak about this bill. I’d make the criminal penalty for any elected official who knowingly directs law enforcement to violate the rights of residents the exact same as the gun control law that they’re demanding be enforced. If it’s 5 years in prison for owning an unregistered AR-15, then the elected official who told cops to go out and round up some AR-15 owners should face five years in state prison for their action.
That sends a stronger message than an “unclassified misdemeanor”, which honestly suggests that ordering cops to violate people’s civil rights isn’t that big a deal. Maybe the Senate can offer that as an amendment when they vote on HB 1957.
The bottom line is that it still looks like the state is going to have some form of Second Amendment Sanctuary language. The question now is what exactly that language will be and if it will have the endorsement of both the executive and legislative branches, or the statehouse alone.