Misdemeanors for officers who enforce new federal gun regulations?
BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho law enforcement officials who help enforce any new federal firearms restrictions or registration requirements could be charged with a misdemeanor under legislation advanced by a House committee Friday.
The bill passed along party lines after testimony briefly became heated, forcing the House State Affairs Committee chairman to cut off debate. The proposal could bring jail time and fines to any sheriff deputy - or other government workers - who helps federal agents confiscate any newly banned firearms or ammunition.
Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, and a group of supporters sporting "Yes H219" stickers who testified, said he aims simply to head off attempts by the federal government to outlaw semi-automatic weapons.
The Obama administration has said that it has no plans to confiscate weapons or require national firearms registration. Even so, Patterson indicated the proposal could be a model for other states looking to pre-empt possible federal regulations.
The supposed consequence of the bill was turned on its head during debate, with those who testified suggesting the bill could actually help protect police officers who might otherwise be asked to confront angry, armed citizens worried their guns could be confiscated.
"We do have the authority to protect our first responders and our citizen police forces throughout the state so they don't have to break their oath of office, putting them in the face of citizens who expect them to protect citizens' constitutional rights," Patterson said.
No one at Friday's hearing spoke out against the bill, but conversation turned raucous when Tom Munds, of Caldwell, used his testimony to call President Barack Obama a dictator and accuse liberals of using mental health problems as a pretext to take away gun rights.
Committee chairman Thomas Loertscher, R-Iona, used his gavel to end Munds' testimony.
"We're not going to tolerate this kind of rhetoric being used in this committee room," Loertscher said. "We realize what we're doing here is reinforcing 2nd Amendment rights ... and we don't need that tone to be used here."
One Democratic legislator said Patterson actually has it wrong: If this bill becomes law, Rep. Holli Woodings of Boise, said it could result in law enforcement violating their oaths, not upholding them.
That's because all Idaho state police officers are required to make an oath to "support the constitution and laws of the United States and the state of Idaho, and to honestly and faithfully perform the duties imposed" on them.
"I would like to point to their actual oath of office, which includes language to support the constitution and laws of the United States," said Woodings. "Would this legislation not actually put them in violation of their oath of office in certain circumstances?"
Patterson countered that lawmakers cannot prevent federal agents from enforcing national laws, but they do have power to protect state police from "getting caught up in that dragnet."
An opinion issued Friday by Brian Kane, assistant chief deputy in the Idaho Attorney General's office, concluded the measure is generally constitutional.
But Kane's brief included some caveats, including concern the measure may interfere with existing cooperation agreements between state and federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI. The bill could also create tension with federal law, the opinion said, if Congress passes gun seizure legislation that specifically requires states to cooperate with federal agents.