PHOENIX, Ariz. (June 8, 2016) – Intense opposition by law enforcement lobbyists killed an Arizona bill that would have prohibited the state from using personnel or resources to enforce any new federal gun control measures, setting the foundation to nullify them in practice within the state.

Rep. Anthony Kern (R-Glendale), Rep. Darin Mitchell (R-Dist. 13) and Rep. Steve Montenegro (R-Avondale) filed House Bill 2300 (HB2300) in January, along with three other cosponsors. The legislation prohibited any state or local agency and their employees from “knowingly and willingly” participating in any way in the enforcement of any future federal act, law, order, rule or regulation issued regarding a personal firearm, a firearm accessory or ammunition “that infringes the right to keep and bear arms guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution or that impairs that right in violation of Article 2, Section 26 of the Arizona constitution”

The bill would have also banned the use of state assets or money in the enforcement of future federal gun laws.

Any local government found to have assisted in the enforcement of such federal gun laws in violation of the act would have lost all of its state funding the following year. State or local employers would have faced criminal penalties for knowingly violating the law.

HB2300 passed the House by a vote of 35-24 in February. The Senate Federalism, Mandates and Fiscal Responsibility Committee passed it by a close vote of 4-3 in their last meeting of the 2016 legislative session on Mar. 15. The Senate Rules Committee then gave it a “Proper for Consideration” recommendation, sending the bill to the full Senate for further consideration.

HB2300 seemed to be on track to go to the Senate floor when it was retained in the Committee of the Whole without a vote, effectively killing the bill. The reason: intense law enforcement opposition. Kern and Senate supporters of the bill decided that it was better to pull the bill and take another shot at it next year rather then have it voted down.

The entirety of the argument against HB2300 presented by John Thomas of the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police during a committee hearing was based on the position that it would target, as violators of the proposed law, individual law enforcement officers who inadvertently (not intentionally) help the federal government violate the Second Amendment while participating in joint operations on other, unrelated issues.

“This means if there is an impairment of your 2nd amendment rights by the federal government working – and you’re working with them as a local state agency, even if you weren’t aware that they were going to do this, even if you weren’t aware that it is an impairment, you’re still in violation of this law.” -John Thomas, in committee, 03-15-16

Mr. Thomas repeated this position multiple times in the hearing, including the following statement:

“…telling us we can’t work with the feds for fear that one of our people might inadvertently work with an agency that violates the 2nd amendment stops us from cooperating with the federal government.”

Mr. Thomas also provided a hypothetical scenario, whereby local law enforcement is helping the federal government conduct an operation regarding child pornography and inadvertently stood watch outside the property while the federal agents also potentially violated the 2nd Amendment.

“Postal service says they’re going to do a child porn bust, they call the local jurisdiction, law enforcement comes and secures the scene, outside to make sure everything is OK. They go in. They bust three people. They take weapons away from all three people. Two of them, they should have taken it away, the third, maybe not – maybe it would be a violation of the 2nd Amendment for taking it away.  Our officers there are now in violation of this law even if they did not know they were going to do that.”

The actual language in the bill would only apply to state and local agents who “knowingly and willingly” help with federal enforcement actions “regarding a personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition” that violates the 2nd Amendment OR Article 2, Section 26 of the Arizona Constitution.

This rules running afoul of the law through “inadvertent” actions. It’s also clear that disarming a suspect during an arrest would not constitute enforcement of a federal act relating to firearms.

Behind the scenes, law enforcement lobbyists also questioned the what it means to “infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.” They argued that simply disarming a pedophile during an arrest would violate the proposed law. This was clearly a ridiculous interpretation.

Activists supporting the bill asked law enforcement for suggestions on language that would clarify the bill, but they did not offer any alternatives. The impression was that law enforcement simply didn’t want any limits on their ability to enforce federal gun control and were going to oppose the bill no matter what.

Kern has committed to working over the summer to refine the bill’s language and take another shot at it next year.

Mike Maharrey