Governor has constitutional concerns on gun bill involving state, local law enforcement

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 2,442 views 

A bill that gives state and local law enforcement the ability to not cooperate with federal law enforcement is problematic, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson. The governor said Friday (April 16) that he’s reviewing SB 298, which is on his desk for signature or veto consideration.

SB 298, the Arkansas Sovereignty Act of 2021, by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, and Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, restricts local or state law enforcement or public officials from enforcing or assisting federal agencies or officers “in the enforcement of any federal statute, executive order, or federal agency directive that conflicts with the Arkansas Constitution.”

The measure specifically addresses federal requirements to register or track firearms, any prohibition against possession or ownership of a firearm or accessory, or the confiscation of firearms or ammunition.

“All acts, laws, orders, rules, and regulations of the United States Government, whether past, present, or future, that infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and Arkansas Constitution, Article 2,§5, are invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state,” the bill reads.

Hutchinson said the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution has determined that when there is a conflict between state and federal law, federal law prevails. The Arkansas bill ignores that legal precedent.

“I’ve got three bills coming to my desk that I’ll be looking at which are protecting the Second Amendment, but it does it in a way that restricts state law enforcement from cooperating with federal law enforcement. As a former head of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), as someone who has been a United States Attorney, and understands the importance of federal-state cooperation, that gives me heartburn. I’m going to have to look at those bills very carefully… This is a concern to me because I believe it is unconstitutional,” the governor said.

The bill passed the Senate on a 28-7 vote and the House by a 76-18 margin. The governor received the bill on Thursday and has five working days to consider if he will sign it. As of Friday afternoon, Hutchinson said he has not decided what his action will be.

“I struggle with the refusal of local law enforcement to cooperate with federal law enforcement,” Hutchinson added. “For example, I prosecuted the white supremacists, as you know in the 80’s, the CSA [The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord] – one of the most successful law enforcement operations in our state. And that was a combination of state resources and federal resources going after a neo-Nazi violent group. Guess what? They were going after them because they had machines guns in the compound and we were cooperating together. Under this bill, that would be prohibited.”

The governor’s comments were made in a Talk Business & Politics interview taped Friday (April 16) set to air Sunday morning statewide. Other topics from the interview include more on the legislative session, the state of the pandemic, executive vs. legislative branch powers, Donald Trump, Arkansas’ next gubernatorial race, and Hutchinson’s future political options.