Second Amendment ‘sanctuary’ bill in Ohio gets tweaks to its approach
A pro-Second Amendment hat. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)
With little discussion Tuesday, an Ohio House committee approved a series of changes to a controversial gun measure. The bill, known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, would keep state and local law enforcement from carrying out federal firearm provisions.
Supporters claim the measure falls within the scope of anti-commandeering doctrine; essentially, federal officials can’t compel other agencies to enforce policy for them. But opponents argue it’s an attempt to nullify federal law, littered with unintended consequences.
A federal judge in Missouri struck down the legislation that served as a model for Ohio’s proposal. After a series of carve outs meant to address objections raised in that ruling by Republicans on the committee and by outside law enforcement groups, supporters believe they’ve got a path to the House floor.
While gun rights activists have been skeptical of federal authority for decades, the apparent spark for the bill has to do with pistol braces. The attachments allow a shooter to brace the gun against their shoulder to improve accuracy. That amounts to a short-barreled rifle under the National Firearms Act, according to the ATF.
But the agency isn’t actually banning braces. Instead, gun owners have to register the weapons — the ATF even waived a $200 fee through May of this year.
The regulation has gotten off to a rocky start, though. Republicans in the U.S. House advanced a resolution to repeal the rule despite a promised veto. Earlier this month, a federal judge in Texas granted a preliminary injunction that bars enforcement of the provision.
Speaking after Tuesday’s hearing, state Rep. D.J. Swearingen, R-Huron, defended the bill’s response to those regulations.
“At the state level, we don’t want to be used to enforce any type of gun bans or pistol brace bans or anything like that,” he said. “If the federal government wants to use resources to enforce their gun bans they can, but they’re not going to use our sheriffs and our local police to do that.”
That mulish posture toward federal authority informs the entirety of the bill. But the initial versions took that defiance further than even some typical allies were willing to go.
Notwithstanding supporters’ claims that the measure didn’t nullify federal law, the bill laid out a set of federal actions that the state would consider “infringements” and that those “shall be invalid,” “shall not be recognized,” “shall be specifically rejected” and “shall not be enforced.”
Prosecutors were quick to note cutting off all interaction with federal authorities would prohibit interagency task forces that work on drug and human trafficking cases. They noted as well that the language was broad enough that police likely couldn’t use the ballistics database that’s vital in tracking gun crimes.
Hiring penalties struck Republicans like state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, as excessive. Supporters want to block local agencies from hiring former ATF agents, but the $50,000 penalty per employee was so broad that it might include veterans, or a person working a desk job at an unrelated federal agency.
Chris Dorr from Ohio Gun Owners insisted the changes address those concerns. New language explicitly allows for non-firearm task forces, he said, and hiring penalties only apply to people who enforced what he termed “unconstitutional” gun laws in Ohio.
“So, in particular, if you were an ATF agent, you’re gonna have a very hard time getting hired in the state of Ohio,” Dorr said. “But military, ex-military, even ATF officers that were not involved in enforcement, they’re going to be easily qualified to become employees of the state of Ohio.”
In reality, the prohibitions are just as broad as before, sweeping in any “official, agent, employee, or deputy of the government of the United States.” The only change is that the previous federal employee must attempt to enforce federal law to trigger the penalty.
To Dorr, it looks like smooth sailing.
“I think we’ve got a much more elegant bill than we had before. I think it’s pro-gun. It’s pro-cop. It’s pro-citizens, pro-freedom,” he argued. “And I think you’re gonna see a lot of people come together and support this, whereas there might have been some questions before.”
There’s no shortage of Ohio Statehouse Republicans who want to establish their Second Amendment bona fides. Sticking it to a federal agency like the ATF is pretty popular, too. But even with those sympathies, the initial bill staked out an extreme position and the changes are relatively narrow.
The new version drops language purporting to dictate which federal actions constitute an infringement of the Second Amendment. But it addresses concerns about interagency task forces and the ballistics database with tweaks. The bill makes explicit allowances — carving them out from its purview while maintaining its broader prohibitions on working with federal agencies. Those prohibitions come with costly penalties for local agencies in addition to the hiring penalties for previous federal employees.
It’s not clear yet if those changes are enough. Speaking briefly after the hearing, Seitz noted he hadn’t “studied it in detail but it looks to be an improvement.”
For his part, Swearingen is hoping to get the measure onto the House floor in November.
Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.
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