A proposal to make it illegal for some Arizonans to enforce federal gun laws is raising concern by the nation's largest defender of the Second Amendment.
Todd Rathner of the National Rifle Association said he appreciates the sentiment behind the proposal by Rep. Steve Smith, R-Maricopa, to provide some protection for those who believe that new laws and regulations being proposed by the president are illegal.
"I like the message he's trying to send,'' said Rathner. But the Tucson resident said Monday 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.''
The legislation comes just days after President Obama announced a series of executive orders designed to deal with gun violence. And the president also asked Congress for new restrictions on certain types of guns and magazines.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Tucson, chided Smith for what he said is a knee-jerk reaction.
He said no one knows exactly how the president's orders would work. And Gallego also pointed out that 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.
HB 2291 would make it illegal for any public servant to enforce federal laws or rules about firearms that remain within the state's boundaries. What specifically concerns Rathner is that prohibition also would apply to federally licensed firearms dealers.
"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.''
Smith acknowledged the problem his legislation could create for federally licensed firearms dealers.
But he pointed out that his measure contains no penalty for either public servants or dealers who ignore its provisions. Smith that that means 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?''
But Charles Heller, a spokesman for the Arizona Citizens Defense League said he sees one benefit to what Smith is trying to do: Get the issue in front of a judge.
Heller said anyone challenging a federal law needs legal "standing'' to bring such a case. He said anyone who is forced to choose between conflicting state and federal laws automatically has such standing.
One section of Smith's legislation, though, does have a penalty: Any federal official or agent who sought to enforce new federal firearms laws and rules in Arizona could be found guilty of a felony and sent to prison.
Gallego said he believes Smith's 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.