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Holder ready to take Kansas to court over new gun law

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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's administration is gearing up for a legal battle to defend a law aiming to nullify federal gun regulations in the state.

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By The Kansas City Star
Saturday, May 4, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tensions are flaring between Attorney General Eric Holder and Kansas over a new state law shielding guns made in the state from federal regulation.

Holder recently wrote to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, saying the new law conflicts with the Constitution by potentially putting federal authorities in a legal bind.

“Federal officers cannot be forced to choose between the risk of a criminal prosecution by a state and the continued performance of their duties,” Holder wrote in a letter dated April 26.

Holder threatened legal action against the state, saying the federal government would do what's necessary to prevent Kansas from interfering with agents enforcing federal law.

The state is bracing for litigation. State Attorney General Derek Schmidt has asked the Legislature for $225,000 for the next two years to defend the law.

Swept up in a states' rights fervor, Kansas was one of 31 states this year that considered bills to nullify federal gun control laws talked about in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“We are standing our ground,” said Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association. “We are not only supporting the Second Amendment, but we're supporting state sovereignty here.

“It is high time that this discussion take place.”

Kansas is believed to be the only state to enact such a law, although a similar measure is awaiting the signature of Alaska's governor.

The Missouri House passed a bill in late April that made it a felony for federal officials to enforce federal gun laws. It now awaits action in the state Senate.

At issue in Kansas is a bill Brownback signed April 17 called the Second Amendment Protection Act. It passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan support.

The law makes it illegal for federal authorities to apply federal laws to firearms commercially or individually built and owned inside Kansas, as long as the gun stays in the state. The law also protects ammunition and gun accessories from federal law.

Federal agents violating the law would face the lowest-level felony in Kansas, carrying a prison sentence ranging from five to 13 months.

Yet Holder said that under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, Kansas cannot prevent federal law enforcement from carrying out its responsibilities.

“And a state certainly may not criminalize the exercise of federal responsibilities,” Holder wrote.

Brownback responded to Holder on Thursday with a letter, saying the law reflected the will of Kansans to protect the sovereignty of their state.

Many legal scholars don't believe states can outright nullify federal laws the way Kansas is trying to do with guns and ammunition.

The conservative Heritage Foundation put out a fact sheet titled: “Nullification: Unlawful and unconstitutional.”

Although the think tank's paper doesn't address guns specifically, it states, “There is no clause or implied power in either the national or the various state constitutions that enables states to veto federal laws unilaterally.”

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