On April 26, US Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to Gov. Sam Brownback that states the new Kansas law attempting to block federal regulation of some guns is unconstitutional. That new law took effect April 25, just one day earlier.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
The new law declares the federal government has no authority to regulate guns, ammunition and accessories manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas. The law also makes it a felony for a federal agent to enforce any law, regulation, order or treaty covering those items.
Barry Grissom, the US Attorney for the district of Kansas, has concerns with implementing the new gun law and warns that the federal government is willing to go to court over it.
“Well under the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution, no state may prevent federal employees or officials from carrying out their official responsibilities, “ says Grissom.
“And a state certainly may not pass a statute that criminalizes the exercise of federal responsibilities and because the Kansas law conflicts with federal firearms law, federal law supersedes the new statute and continues to apply.”
Grissom says the FBI, DEA, ATF and other federal agencies are charged with making sure that families, communities and businesses are safe by enforcing federal criminal statutes.
“The so-called Second Amendment Protection Act basically says if a firearm is produced in Kansas, kept in Kansas and used only in Kansas, that there is no federal nexus in other words, no federal connection, so therefore federal law shouldn’t apply, “ he says.
HOW THE LAW WOULD WORK
There are 93 judicial districts throughout the United States. Grissom says Kansas is number one in prosecuting felons in possession of firearms.
“Now, if a felon had a weapon that was manufactured, produced and kept in Kansas, that would be an issue that would come up. Any person arresting that felon might be at risk of having themselves charged with a felony. So there’s whole layers of issues here from our perspective.”
The law does more harm than it does good, he says, and will impair law enforcement's abilities on a many levels.
THE COURTROOM COULD BE NEXT
“Because of that, and because the supremacy clause of the Constitution in this area preempts what the state law is attempting to do, Attorney General Eric Holder sent a letter to the governor who signed the legislation and it went into effect a week ago this past Thursday. That if this law is attempted to be implemented, that we’ll take every initiative and every step available to us, including litigation if necessary, to make sure this law is not enforced.”
Grissom says what Holder’s letter has done is let the state and the governor know what the Department of Justice’s intentions are should this go forward.
“No one should be surprised and act as if this is the first time that they are aware that this is something we take very serious," he says.
WAS TROUBLE EXPECTED?
Kansas Attorney General Derrick Schmidt office has already anticipated a potential legal challenge from the federal government and has asked lawmakers to increase its budget by $225,000 for the next two years to cover litigation costs.
“I think that speaks volumes,” says Grissom.
Out of all the legislation that's passed every year in Kansas, Grissom says it's rare for the attorney general to anticipate litigation and need to request additional money to cover it.
A SENSITIVE SUBJECT
Supporters of the new gun law say they worry about attempts by the federal government to restrict or ban the sale of some of weapons or even confiscate. But Grissom, who says he owns several guns himself, calls that an "emotional button" that is often pushed when talking about gun safety regulation.
“I am a firm believer in the second amendment,” says Grissom. “There is nothing out there either in the way of proposed legislation, there’s nothing anywhere, that deals with the issue of confiscation. That’s just not the case.”
Grissom says if you go to any reputable retailer that sells weapons, you have to go through a background check. But if you go to a gun show, you don’t have to go through that same check.
“Now if you a criminal, are you going to go to a Walmart to buy your weapon where they do a background check or you going to go to a gun show where you can find a vendor, no questions asked, and you can by a gun for cash? You know we need to have universal background check that’s not a burden on anyone,” he said.
WHAT IS OUR GOAL?
Grissom says he thinks that we lose sight of what we’re really pursuing, which is hopefully making our state a safer place to live, when we our focus is something other than that goal.
“Our focus is something that’s symbolic. If it’s just symbolism that’s one thing, but if what you are doing is going to impair law enforcement from, quite frankly, protecting all of us, that’s a real concern. And we will do everything to make sure that this law has no consequence for our federal agents and if necessary, we’ll go to court over it.”
By late Thursday, Kansas Attorney General Derrick Schmidt office had not returned requests from KMUW to respond to Holder’s letter.