Fearing new federal laws and regulations, a state legislator wants to provide legal cover for Arizonans who do not want to obey them -- and penalties for federal officials who try to enforce them.
The proposal by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa makes it illegal for any public servant to enforce "any act, law, statute, rule or regulation'' of the federal government relating to personal firearms or accessories as long as they remain within the boundaries of Arizona. And it defines public servants to include not just state and local employees but legislators, judges, jurors, witnesses and consultants who perform government functions.
Another provision puts the same prohibition on federally licensed firearms dealers.
But HB 2291 contains no penalties for either public servants or dealers. Smith said it instead would provide a defense of sorts for those who believe the Second Amendment precludes any new rules.
That, however, is not the case for another provision which would make it a felony, punishable by a year in state prison, for federal employees or officials who try to enforce those same laws or regulations.
The move comes as the president has asked Congress to approve new restrictions on assault-style weapons as well as limits on magazine capacity. And Obama also laid out 23 separate executive orders related to gun safety.
Smith said his legislation, if approved, would pave the way for legislative lawyers to determine if there's "wiggle room'' to ignore both those statutes and any regulations.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, chided Smith for pushing such a broad-based state ban even before any of what is in the president's orders has been flushed out to see how they would work -- and before Congress has yet to act on anything.
"He's ceding to this paranoia that is out there that somehow the president and Washington are going to take their guns,'' he said.
But Smith's proposal also is raising some concern by Todd Rathner, a board member of the National Rifle Association, albeit for different reasons.
"I like the message he's trying to send,'' Rather said Monday. But the Tucson resident said he has "real concerns'' about how such a state law would affect federally licensed firearms dealers who would be put in a position of whether to obey state or federal laws.
"I worry about putting federal firearms licensees in the middle of a fight between us and the federal government,'' he said. "It puts them between a rock and a hard place because they worry about committing a federal crime or a state crime.''
And the issues, Rathner said, are more than academic.
"If they don't follow the federal laws ... they're going to have their license yanked,'' he said. "So they're not going to get guns from the manufacturers.''
Dave Kopp, a lobbyist with the Arizona Citizens Defense League agreed with Rathner that he likes the concept. But Kopp said it remains to be seen whether such a measure, were it to pass, is legal, predicting a court battle.
Smith conceded that, in a straight test between federal laws and state laws, the former is likely to prevail. Where he said his measure may be more effective is on any action the president takes on his own.
Obama announced he will be issuing executive orders dealing with background checks, doing studies on gun violence and taking steps to what could be new safety standards for weapons. Smith said in those cases, a state law would have more effect than anything the president would do on his own, or any regulation a federal agency enacts without a specific law mandating it.
"I don't know that an agency can arbitrarily change a rule so dramatically without congressional approval,'' he said.
Smith said it would be one thing if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were making a technical change, like a fee increase.
"We're fundamentally changing the scope of the Second Amendment in many people's eyes,'' he said. "And I don't know that an agency can do that.''
Smith said he is sending a message to the president and Congress.
"Here's a line in the sand: Thanks, but no thanks. Stay out with your federal regulations you're going to impose on us,'' he said.
Smith acknowledged the problem his legislation could create for federally licensed firearms dealers. That's because his prohibition against enforcing federal laws and rules would extend to them.
That would mean dealers who comply with state law would be risking the loss of their federal license and right to sell guns.
But he said that, without a specific penalty, firearms dealers fearing federal sanctions could ignore the state law without fear of state penalties.
Rathner, however, said that provides little comfort.
"Placing any further burden on a federal firearms licensee in terms of compliance with any law gives me great pause,'' he said.
"They already have a book 5-inches thick they have to comply with in terms of federal laws,'' Rathner explained. "Do we really want to place another state burden on an FFL?''
Gallego predicted that the measure goes too far even for the Republican majority in both the state House and Senate. And he suggested that even Smith realizes that, saying it's designed to get attention rather than enactment.
"It just brings another black eye to Arizona so Steve Smith can go to his local tea party and thump on his chest and show how tough he is,'' Gallego said.