Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a Second Amendment Sanctuary bill was handed down last Friday, but the governor may end up not getting his way on the bill. On Monday the Arkansas State Senate voted to override Hutchinson’s nixing of the Arkansas Sovereignty Act 2021, and now the bill heads back to the House for a final vote on the measure.
SB 298 originally passed the Senate by a vote of 28-7, and while the override vote was closer, 21 members of the state Senate still chose to buck the governor and his veto. The original vote in the House was an even more lopsided 76-18, and it’s likely that the votes are there to overturn Hutchinson’s veto of the legislation.
The Arkansas Sovereignty Act declares that all unconstitutional gun control laws are null and void in the state, and specifically refers to the National Firearms Act of 1934, the Gun Control Act of 1968, and any future bans on firearms or attempts to confiscate them.
The bill also forbids state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal officials in enforcing any unconstitutional gun law, and could punish individual offenders with a misdemeanor charge and a $500 fine. That appears to be Hutchinson’s main issue with the legislation.
According to a report from content partner KARK, Gov. Hutchinson sent a letter to legislative leadership on the bill, sponsored by Rep. Brandt Smith (R-Jonesboro) and Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch).
In the letter, Gov. Hutchinson said he believes the bill would create issues between state and federal law, as well as cooperation in investigations with federal and state authorities in Arkansas.
“The partnership between state and federal law enforcement officers is essential for the safety of Arkansas citizens. This bill will break that partnership and put the safety of Arkansans at risk,” Gov. Hutchinson said.
In the letter, the governor went on to say that, while he’s “committed to protecting the sovereignty of the state of Arkansas and the constitutional rights” of residents, “criminalizing cooperation with the federal government is not the solution.”
I understand that the intent of the bill is to provide citizens with confidence that law enforcement officers of this state will not participate in the enforcement of unconstitutional laws. I fully support this intention, but the bill does not accomplish that goal.
Instead, it creates ambiguity and uncertainty in our state’s firearm laws, and it jeopardizes the essential partnership between state and federal law enforcement agencies on critical missions that ensure the safety of Arkansans.
In his veto message, Hutchinson also pointed out that the bill’s language attempting to nullify the NFA and GCA “does not attempt to provide any exception for provisions of those laws concerning unlawful possession by violent criminals,” and noted that other criminal statutes in the state reference both the NFA and GCA but aren’t covered under SB 298, which the governor says would turn the bill into “a defense attorney’s dream come true.”
From a legal perspective, the governor is probably right. It’s highly unlikely that any court is going to recognize the state’s claim that federal law is null and void in the state simply because lawmakers passed a bill saying so. Rather than borrowing language from California’s “sanctuary state” law dealing with illegal immigration, which has been upheld by the courts, the Arkansas legislature decided to push the boundaries of Tenth Amendment jurisprudence, knowing full well that the legislation is likely to face a court challenge if its enacted into law.
If the Arkansas bill were to simply forbid state and local law enforcement from assisting federal authorities in enforcing non-violent, possessory firearm offenses, it would be on stronger legal footing, but it would also change the intent of the legislation, which is to challenge all federal gun control laws as they’re applied to the states. The state legislature may very well override Hutchinson’s veto, but that alone won’t stop future fights over the legality of the legislation.