TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A national gun control group filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against a Kansas law that challenges federal authority to regulate firearms, and one of the organization’s leaders acknowledged the challenge is designed to discourage other states from enacting similar measures.
The Washington-based Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence is seeking to overturn a 2013 state law declaring that the federal government has no authority to regulate guns manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas. The law makes it a felony for any U.S. government employee to attempt to enforce federal regulations for Kansas-only firearms, ammunition or accessories and allows lawsuits by the state attorney general or county prosecutors to block federal enforcement attempts.
Courts have routinely ruled that states cannot override federal laws, but that hasn’t stopped them from trying. Kansas’ law is similar to ones in Alaska and Idaho, written to apply to a limited number of guns that supporters believe won’t fall under the federal government’s power to regulate interstate commerce. But a federal appeals court last year dismissed the argument in striking down a similar 2009 Montana law, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused twice to review the case.
The lawsuit, filed in Kansas and naming Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP Attorney General Derek Schmidt as defendants, contends the law represents an unconstitutional attempt by a state to “nullify” federal gun laws. The Brady Center also alleges that if Kansas enforces its law, it will ignore regulations that protect public safety and help law enforcement agencies combat crime.
“We do think it is extremely important to send a message to state legislatures around the country that an attempt to exempt themselves from important federal gun laws is not permitted,” said Jonathan Lowy, who oversees legal challenges mounted by a center affiliated with the Brady campaign.
There have been no known attempts to arrest U.S. government employees or block federal enforcement actions. Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, which backs the law, said her group has advised companies and individuals to wait for a court challenge to be resolved — unless they’re willing to become “a test case.”
“They want to wait and see how this plays out,” she said.
Stoneking said her group is confident the law will be upheld because it is limited to items that don’t cross state lines. Brownback promised this week, before the lawsuit was filed, that the state would vigorously defend the law.
Noting that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder strongly criticized the legislation last year, Brownback accused Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration of finding “some Washington, D.C., lawyers to do their bidding.”
Schmidt said in a statement Wednesday, “This law has been in effect, unchanged, for more than a year, and the timing and tone of this election-year lawsuit are obviously political.”
But Lowy said the center is representing Kansas residents who are concerned about public safety because they’ve experienced gun violence. For example, the lawsuit says a member of the Brady campaign, Paul Temme, of Prairie Village, was fired on during an attack at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park that left two dead there.
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