JUNEAU — A bill that would render future federal gun restrictions unenforceable in Alaska could be headed to a vote on the Senate floor despite questions over its constitutionality.
HB69, by House Speaker Mike Chenault, would effectively nullify any laws that restrict Alaskans right to own assault weapons and most firearms. A legislative attorney has called the original version of the bill “largely unconstitutional.”
The bill passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It now goes to the Senate Rules Committee, and could be scheduled for a vote in the coming days, according to Senate Majority Leader John Coghill.
The North Pole Republican, who also serves as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proposed an amendment to the bill that strikes one of its most contentious sections.
That provision would have made it a felony for federal officers to enforce future federal laws that restrict gun ownership.
The House version of the bill, which included the felony section, received widespread support from House Majority members — over half the House signed up as co-sponsors of HB69.
Members of the public testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee to protest the felony provision’s removal on Monday. Coghill said he’s received more emails on this issue than any other during this legislative session.
While Coghill says he leans toward favoring the concept of nullification — by which states can “nullify” federal laws they believe are unconstitutional by passing their own legislation — he said there’s a practical problem trying to charge federal officers with felonies, and that it would detract from the real debate.
“I wanted to fight over the Constitutional question,” Coghill said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Coghill said it’s likely unconstitutional to charge federal officers with a felony for following orders, but said he’d be willing to test it.
“Personally, I think we’d lose that one in the courts,” Coghill said.
During the measure’s vote on the House floor, a handful of the bill’s detractors said the measure would put Alaska’s public safety officials in danger because it could set up a deadly standoff between state and federal officers.
The amended version of HB69 now bars state and municipal agencies from using their assets to help implement a federal regulation or law that infringes upon Alaskan’s right to own and use firearms. It also directs the state attorney general to defend those who fight the federal government based on Second Amendment violations.
Supporters of Coghill’s amendment called it a “clever” solution because it removes local enforcement mechanisms for federal gun laws without setting up the fight between state police and federal officers.
If it passes, HB69 would still have to go back to the House to approve the changes, but Coghill said Chenault told him that the House isn’t expected to challenge the Senate’s version of the bill.
“While I may not agree with the total changes in the bill before you, I do understand your concerns and the concerns expressed by the attorney general,” Chenault told the Senate Judiciary Committee.