Some states push back on guns

Customer Roy Shanks displays the Smith and Wesson variation of the AR-15 rifle he bought at a gun show in Tennessee, one of the states seeking to keep federal officials from enforcing gun policy.
Customer Roy Shanks displays the Smith and Wesson variation of the AR-15 rifle he bought at a gun show in Tennessee, one of the states seeking to keep federal officials from enforcing gun policy. (MICHAEL PATRICK / Knoxville News Sentinel)

One rural sheriff said a constitutional issue is at stake.

Posted: January 18, 2013

GRANTS PASS, Ore. - From Oregon to Mississippi, President Obama's proposed ban on new assault weapons and large-capacity magazines struck a nerve among rural law enforcers and lawmakers, many of whom vowed to ignore any restrictions - and even try to stop federal officials from enforcing gun policy in their jurisdictions.

"A lot of sheriffs are now standing up and saying, 'Follow the Constitution,' " said Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson, whose territory covers the timbered mountains of southwestern Oregon.

But their actual powers to defy federal law are limited. And much of the impassioned rhetoric amounts to political posturing until - and if - Congress acts.

Absent action by Congress, all that remains are 23 executive orders Obama announced that apply only to the federal government, not local or state law enforcement.

In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, urged the Legislature to make it illegal to enforce any executive order that violates the Constitution.

"If someone kicks open my door and they're entering my home, I'd like as many bullets as I could to protect my children," Bryant said. "And what we're doing now is saying, 'We're standing against the federal government taking away our civil liberties.' "

Tennessee Republican State Rep. Joe Carr wants to make it a state crime for federal agents to enforce any ban on firearms or ammunition. He instead called for more armed guards at schools.

Legislative proposals to preempt federal gun restrictions also have arisen in Wyoming, Utah, and Alaska.

A Wyoming bill specifies that any federal limitation on guns would be unenforceable. It also would make it a state felony for federal agents to try to enforce restrictions.

In Utah, some Republicans are preparing legislation to exempt the state from federal gun laws - and fine any federal agents who try to seize guns. A bill in the Alaska House would make it a misdemeanor for a federal agent to enforce new restrictions on gun ownership.

While such proposals are eye-catching, they likely could not be implemented.

"The legislature can pass anything it wants," said Sam Kamin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Denver. "The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution makes that clearly unconstitutional. Where there's a conflict between state and federal law, the federal government is supreme."

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