House Bill 144 was first proposed as a bill that would allow the state to regulate its own firearms and even allow local law enforcement to slap the cuffs on federal agents trying to seize Utahn’s guns. The bill drew public praise from gun-toting self-proclaimed “patriots,” criticism from gun-control advocates and a hefty warning from legislative counsel that the bill was unconstitutional. The bill passed out of committee Monday but not before the sponsor disarmed it of its more controversial components.
Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, proposed his House Bill 114 as a means of asserting that it was the constitutional authority of the states to regulate firearms laws, which would allow Utah to have the final say on gun laws and regulation within the state. Greene from the beginning was challenged by a constitutional note on the bill, suggesting the bill was very likely unconstitutional and could draw litigation for the state at the taxpayer’s expense -- especially since the bill’s original draft would have made it a felony for federal agents to enforce federal law in seizing Utahn’s guns, allowing for an awkward and possibly dangerous scenario for federal agents, instead of counting on local support in seizing weapons from a potentially violent suspect they would have to worry about being arrested by a local sheriff in the enforcement of their federal duties. After plenty of discussion, Greene changed the bill and took out parts of the bill that would penalize federal agents for doing their duties. Lacking any penalties or restrictions against federal agencies, Greene said the bill still “affirms” the state’s rights in regulating firearms.
In testimony, the freshman representative acknowledged he’d received a lot of feedback on the bill from many different parties including the Governor’s office.
“The Governor has indicated that he doesn’t want any gun legislation passed that is reactionary,” Greene said, adding, however, that he felt the states need to push back against federal infringement of rights and had been lax in doing so in recent years. “Instead, [federal authorities] are spreading out their tentacles to areas reserved for the states or to the people,” Greene said.
The bill passed out of committee and will now head to the House floor for full debate, which should be less heated with the enforcement provisions taken out, leaving the legislation as essentially a message bill. Two Democrats opposed the bill in the House Judiciary Committee, pointing out, however, that while the bill was an improvement, legislative counsel had still warned that it was likely unconstitutional in stating that state gun laws could trump federal laws in terms of the regulation of even the sale and manufacture of firearms in the state.
Clark Aposhian, head of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, the state’s leading gun lobby, is still supportive of the bill but acknowledged the redraft of the bill has “taken the teeth out.”
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