Joe Biden has always been an anti-gun politician – and when he won the presidency, after publishing his plan to end the “gun violence epidemic,” Second Amendment advocates felt a dread not known since the Clinton administration. In the Natural State, that translated to the Arkansas Sovereignty Act of 2021. Under the act, any federal gun control law, “whether past, present, or future,” that infringed upon the people’s right to keep and bear arms would be null and void in the state. The Senate passed it. The House passed it.
Then Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed it.
So they took another swing at it. While the Senate worked to overrule the veto, the House focused, instead, on modifying the bill enough to get it signed. The new bill passed the House. It passed the Senate. Now the governor says he’ll sign it. So what does that mean for Arkansans? Nothing for now – but it could be the difference between freedom and incarceration if the federal government enacts more gun control.
The language of the bill makes it clear that if the federal government reaches for more power than granted by the states in the Tenth Amendment, it’s reaching beyond its authority – and that, while the states granted the power to regulate commerce between states and to lay taxes, they did not authorize federal regulation of firearms within a state.
“The General Assembly denies any claim that the taxing and spending powers of the United States Congress can be used to diminish in any way the people’s right to keep and bear arms,” the bill text declares. It prohibits any employee or representative of the state or of any municipality in the state from enforcing or assisting deferral agencies in the enforcement of any federal law, order, or directive that conflicts with Arkansas Constitution, Article 2, Section 5, which reads:
“The citizens of this State shall have the right to keep and bear arms for their common defense.”
So what does this mean? It means state and local law enforcement won’t assist in enforcing federal law regarding guns – but it doesn’t mean they’ll get in the way of the feds doing their job. For example, if a federal law were passed ordering a confiscation of all semiautomatic rifles, all state and local authorities are to ignore this law.
It does not mean that if the ATF shows up to confiscate a firearm that the gun owner can expect the sheriff’s department or city police to come to the rescue. So does it do anything at all, then? Sure. Say Biden’s Federal Assault Weapons Ban, Part Deux (not the official name, mind you) becomes law, and a resident is pulled over by a sheriff’s deputy, who sees an AR-15 in the back seat. Under this law, any officer who calls in the feds or attempts to confiscate that weapon based on the new federal ban would be decertified as a police officer and end up unemployed.
The original bill, SB298, was passed 28-7 – an 80% majority – through the Senate and 76-18 – an 84% majority – through the House, only to be vetoed by Gov. Hutchinson. Despite the fact that there is a state version of all the federal firearms laws currently on the books, the governor claimed this made law-abiding citizens and law enforcement less safe. The governor and many in the media decried the bill for negating the National Firearms Act (NFA) and Gun Control Act (GCA), making it legal in Arkansas for felons to buy machine guns.
AR Code 5-73-103 states that no one who has been convicted of a felony, adjudicated mentally ill, or committed involuntarily to any mental institution can have a firearm at all. The very next section, AR Code 5-73-104, lists the following prohibited weapons that no civilian can have:
- Machine gun;
- Sawed-off shotgun or rifle;
- Firearm specially made or specially adapted for silent discharge;
- Metal knuckles; or
- Other implement for the infliction of serious physical injury or death.
Even if these prohibitions did prevent gun violence – and they don’t – the fact that state law mirrors federal law here negates any potential for SB298 to make life more dangerous for anyone. To say it could simply demonstrates a lack of knowledge regarding the law – a worrying but all too common trait amongst politicians and law enforcement personnel.
The Senate was quick to override the veto. The vote was 21-12, a 63% majority. The House, however, focused on rewriting the bill slightly. This new version, HB1957, passed the House 75-19, an 80% majority, and the Senate 26-6, with two not voting and one voting “present” for a 74% majority. Wednesday, April 28, Gov. Hutchinson said he would sign the bill into law.
So what was given up? The new bill will only decertify any officer who assists federal agents on new federal gun laws enacted after Jan. 1, 2021. Originally, it would have fined the officer between $500 and $1,000 for assisting in the enforcement of any federal firearm law, past, present, or future.
Republican State Sen. Trent Garner voted for the reworked bill but mumbled “piece of garbage” after his vote, later saying “It’s better than nothing, but barely.”
Read more from James Fite.