A bill that would give the state the authority to find certain federal gun regulations invalid won final Senate approval Wednesday, but only after being largely rewritten.
Senators voted 24-6 in favor of Senate File 81, the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” only after it was heavily amended to create a legal process by which the state could refuse to enforce certain federal gun rules.
“This … is an amendment that preserves the heart and soul and spirit of what we hoped to do with this legislation,” Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan. “It’s consistent with our constitutional right as a state to refuse to enforce laws we believe to be unconstitutional.”
One of the senators voting against the bill was Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, its primary sponsor, who complained the amended version destroyed the intent of the original bill.
“I’m going to vote no because I got drug into a fight with everybody because we wanted to pass a bill that does nothing,” he said.
As originally written, the bill said the state could declare as invalid any federal law that infringed on Second Amendment rights, including taxes on firearms and ammunition, registration of firearms and laws forbidding the ownership, use or possession of firearms by law-abiding citizens.
The bill would also have forbidden law enforcement officers from seizing weapons in response to federal laws and would have allowed officers and their local governments to be sued over such seizures.
But senators agreed with arguments by Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, that the state needed to establish some kind of process before simply declaring a federal law invalid.
Hicks’ amendment would allow groups of 25 or more to petition the attorney general with allegations a federal gun law was an unconstitutional infringement on the Second Amendment. If the attorney general and governor agreed, the governor would issue an executive order blocking local law enforcement officers from enforcing the federal law in question.
Senators agreed the process would be a better way to handle a difference over a federal law than simply declaring the law invalid, something several said states are not allowed to do under the Constitution.
“The amendment makes the bill palatable, it makes the bill constitutional,” said Sen. Tara Nethercott, R-Cheyenne.
Nethercott also implied the part of the original law allowing people to sue law enforcement officers for seizing weapons would keep attorneys employed.
“As you know, there’s a crisis in this state and this crisis is availability of lawyers,” she said, joking. “If you vote against (the new language), you’re voting against the lawyers and their ability to pay off their heavy student loan debt.”
The removal of the language allowing lawsuits against law enforcement officers was also welcomed by Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper.
“This bill now focuses and aims this effort at the right people,” said Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper. “This bill keeps our law enforcement from being caught in the crossfire.”
But Bouchard said the amendment destroyed the original intent of the bill by forcing the state to go to court over disputes.
“The bottom line is this guts it,” he said of the amendment. “This bill was simple. There’s no enforcement in this.”
Bouchard also criticized his fellow Republicans for bringing the amendment.
“In other states, it was members of the other party bringing this stuff,” he said. “It wasn’t members of my own caucus.”
But Nethercott said the way the bill was written, supporters were asking legislators to back an unconstitutional measure.
“The eye is not on the prize of preserving our Second Amendment rights, rather, it’s been distracted to devolving in on each other,” she said. “That is not acceptable. I did take an oath in this chamber to only advance constitutional legislation. Being pushed to question my oath regarding the constitutionality of legislation before this body is a request that goes too far.”
The bill now heads to the House for review by representatives.