JUNEAU — The Alaska House passed legislation Monday that would make it a felony for a federal official or agent to try to enforce new restrictions on gun ownership.
The 31-5 vote followed a lengthy floor debate. Supporters said the bill was an attempt to take a stand against federal encroachment on Second Amendment rights, but opponents said the measure flies in the face of the state and U.S. constitutions they took oaths to uphold.
The no votes all came from minority Democrats. Two members of that caucus, Reps. Geran Tarr and Chris Tuck of Anchorage, voted with the majority. Four representatives had excused absences Monday. Tuck had signed on as a co-sponsor of the measure and later served notice of reconsideration, meaning the bill could be voted on again. The measure must still be considered by the Senate.
Sharon Leighow, a spokeswoman for Gov. Sean Parnell, said in an email Monday the administration is still reviewing the bill, but Parnell strongly supports the Second Amendment “and Alaskans’ right to defend themselves. He remains concerned with the federal government continuing to restrict the rights and freedom of individuals.”
HB69 would deem unenforceable new federal laws, orders, rules or regulations that seek to ban or restrict ownership of a semi-automatic firearm or magazine, or that require a firearm, magazine or firearm accessory be registered.
A legislative attorney, Kathleen Strasbaugh, said in a January memo to the bill’s sponsor, Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, that the bill is “largely unconstitutional.”
Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, became emotional speaking in opposition to the bill, saying he was being asked to violate the oath that he and other lawmakers took earlier this year to uphold the constitution. He characterized HB69 as “secessionist talk.”
“We joined the team. Our star is on the flag,” Josephson said. “We didn’t have to do that. We demanded it, we implored our 48 sisters — Hawaii wasn’t admitted yet — to let us join this great team.”
Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, noted it is illegal to interfere with a federal officer in the performance of his or her duties. He said there are better ways for lawmakers to express their dissatisfaction with what the federal government does, including by letter or resolution. “But it is not right to make our constituents think that illegal conduct is OK,” he said.
Proponents said they were sick of the federal government overreaching. Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, said the state has to take a stand somewhere along the way and say “enough is enough,” a sentiment echoed by many fellow majority Republicans. Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, said if the measure has to go to court, that’s a price he is willing to pay.
Rep. Benjamin Nageak, D-Barrow, said he was conflicted about the vote but likened it to people who pushed back against the federal government and fought for the rights of Alaska Natives.
Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said she thought she had gotten more emails on the legal possession of firearms and gun rights than on oil taxes or any other issue in the state.
“I think we’d be sorely missing an opportunity if we didn’t pass this legislation. We’re pointing out that the states are equal. That we have rights. That we cannot be determined always by what is right for Washington, D.C., or the East Coast,” she said.