House Speaker Mike Chenault says federal law enforcement officers should be arrested in Alaska if they attempt to enforce any future federal law banning personal possession of assault rifles or large ammunition clips or if they attempt to register any Alaska firearm.
On Wednesday, just as President Obama was announcing new firearm-control initiatives in the aftermath of the child murders at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., Chenault offered his countermeasure in House Bill 69.
His bill would extend the reach of a law passed in 2010 by asserting that any firearm, firearm accessory or ammunition possessed by anyone in Alaska was not subject to federal law. The 2010 law only covered firearms and ammo manufactured in Alaska and it already was of dubious constitutional validity, though it's never been challenged because no firearm is known to have been manufactured here since then.
In addition to adding the word "possession" to the 2010 law, Chenault's bill declares that any "federal statute, regulation, rule or order" taking effect after passage of House Bill 69 would be invalid in Alaska if it restricted semi-automatic firearms or magazines. The bill also declares invalid any future registration scheme involving firearms, magazines or other firearm accessory.
Any federal agent who attempted to enforce those future federal laws would be subject to prosecution by the state on misdemeanor charges.
"Well, this is interesting," said Karen Loeffler, the U.S. Attorney for Alaska and the chief federal law enforcement official in the state. She declined to comment further until she could study the bill.
Chenault's bill is reminiscent of the battles that Alaskan Independence Party founder Joe Vogler picked with federal officials. But Vogler, who was murdered in 1993, never served in the Legislature.
House Bill 69 already has three cosponsors: Reps. Charisse Millett and Craig Johnson, both Anchorage Republicans, and Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole.
Chenault didn't return a call left on his cellphone. In a prepared statement emailed to reporters Wednesday, he said his measure was in the works before Obama's announcement. He said Obama was pulling on "emotional heartstrings" to weaken Second Amendment protections.
The 2010 law, sponsored by former Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Fairbanks, was one of a number of similar bills heard in legislatures around the country that purported to circumvent present or future federal gun laws. It asserted that the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, used for decades by Congress to regulate industry and other activities, had no effect when a firearm was manufactured, sold and used solely within Alaska's boundaries.
But even before the law passed, serious questions were raised about its validity. In a memorandum to Rep. Lindsey Holmes, then an Anchorage Democrat and now a Republican, Legislative Counsel Gerald Luckhaupt said the bill would not prevent federal authorities from prosecuting someone under federal law. He cited a landmark case in which the Supreme Court said that a California man who possessed a machine gun he made himself could not escape federal prosecution because guns are so easily transported across state lines.
Now Chenault is proposing to go further, asserting in House Bill 69 that gun possession in Alaska removes the effect of the interstate commerce clause.