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Eagle editorial: Shot in the foot

  • Published Sunday, May 5, 2013, at 12 a.m.

Kansas lawmakers were warned about the constitutional problems with the Second Amendment Protection Act. Yet they passed it overwhelmingly and the governor, an attorney, proudly signed it.

Kansans won’t get any meaningful protection or expansion of their treasured gun rights from the law, just the legal bills to defend it in court. In trying to fortify the right to bear arms, the state shot itself in the foot.

The law declares the federal government cannot regulate guns and ammunition manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas, even allowing prosecution of federal officials who try to enforce federal laws on such items. Kansas Assistant Attorney General Charles Klebe cautioned lawmakers in written testimony in February: “To state the obvious, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution cannot be waived by state law, and any conflict between a valid federal law and a state law will be resolved by the courts in favor of the federal enactment.”

Not surprisingly, the law spent only a day on the books in April before drawing the eye and ire of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who advised Gov. Sam Brownback by letter that it “directly conflicts with federal law and is therefore unconstitutional,” that federal law enforcement agencies “will continue to execute their duties to enforce all federal firearms laws and regulations,” and that the federal government may use litigation to prevent the state from interfering in such federal law enforcement.

The law makes even less sense when juxtaposed with the pleas of gun-rights defenders that the country needs not new gun laws but better enforcement of existing gun laws. Legislators should not make enforcement harder, which is what they did in creating a special category of “made in Kansas” guns supposedly immune from federal regulation. And many of the federal agents the law treats as felons are Kansans themselves, public servants who are just trying to investigate and prevent crimes.

In answering Holder’s letter with his own, Brownback accurately said that “the right to keep and bear arms is a right that Kansans hold dear” and that “this is not a partisan issue in Kansas.”

And at least for some, the law was designed to pick a fight with the federal government, not substantively benefit the lives of Kansans.

But it’s a fight Kansas cannot afford – even if the estimated $100,000 in legal bills for fiscal 2014 seems modest – given that the state expects a $745 million drop-off in revenue next year due to the governor’s income-tax cuts and a scheduled reduction in the sales-tax rate.

It’s a fight Kansas is sure to lose, despite assurances to the contrary by Secretary of State Kris Kobach (who helped write the law but should stick to overseeing elections and recordkeeping).

And it’s a fight that lawmakers and the governor easily could have avoided, if they’d been as committed to exercising due diligence as to showcasing their high regard for gun ownership and low regard for the federal government.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman

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