A federal lawsuit filed against the state of Kansas on Wednesday aims to overturn a law, passed by the Legislature last year, that declares Kansas-made firearms exempt from federal law if they do not cross state lines.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence argues that the state law known as the Second Amendment Protection Act violates the supremacy clause, which places federal law above state laws.
“This Kansas law despite its name does not protect the Second Amendment. The courts protect the Second Amendment and interpret the Second Amendment,” said Jonathan Lowy, director of the Brady Center’s legal action project.
“That is the way our legal system operates. It would lead to constitutional anarchy to have 50 state legislatures and governors deciding what they think the Second Amendment or any other constitutional provision means,” he said.
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Lowy compared the bill to nullification laws passed by states in the lead-up to the Civil War.
The 2013 state law said that the federal government has no authority to regulate guns manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas. The law enables guns to be manufactured and sold in Kansas without serial numbers. “The Act threatens to make Kansas a haven for illegal firearms traffickers,” the Brady Center’s complaint states.
Alla Lefkowitz, an attorney for the Brady Center, said gun retailers in Kansas cannot guarantee that guns they sell won’t cross state lines. She called the provision that restricts the law to guns kept in the state “virtually meaningless.”
Lefkowitz said the law, which exempts retailers from running federal background checks, hinders law enforcement efforts to combat gun crimes.
“What this law has done is create a situation where it is plausible that a violent domestic abuser can legally have an untraceable, undetectable gun and if a federal law enforcement officer attempts to arrest that individual it is the officer who will be facing felony charges,” Lefkowitz said.
Rep. Jim Howell, R-Derby, who co-sponsored the bill in the House, said that lawmakers expected the law to be challenged, but that he is confident it will stand.
“The situation they’re claiming, in my opinion, is all based on fear of what might happen. The situation’s not happened yet. They have no person who’s actually made a Kansas firearm that’s crossed state borders,” Howell said. “They’re coming at us with the theory, what might happen, and I don’t think that’s going to stand in court.”
The Brady Center said that a similar law, passed by the Montana Legislature, was struck down by a federal court of appeals.
Gov. Sam Brownback and Attorney General Derek Schmidt are both named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Schmidt issued a statement saying the state will “defend this duly enacted Kansas law.”
He said the law “was intended by the Legislature to safeguard Kansans’ rights under the Second and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.”
He noted it had been in effect for more than a year and called the timing of the lawsuit in an election year “obviously political.”
Brownback responded to the initial announcement of the lawsuit on Monday by suggesting that the Brady Center was doing the bidding of the Obama administration.
Lowy called this assertion utterly baseless and incorrect. He also dismissed the notion that the timing of the lawsuit had any significance.
“We are doing the bidding of Kansans,” he said.
The complaint was filed on behalf of Brady Campaign members living in Kansas, including Paul Temme, who was a witness to the shooting at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in April.
The complaint states that Temme believes the law makes it easier for violent criminals to obtain guns in Kansas and that he fears for his safety.