Kansas picks an unnecessary fight

Constitutionality of state’s new gun law at issue

By The Mercury

We don’t know whether the new Kansas law that asserts that the federal government has no authority to regulate guns, ammunition and accessories made, sold and kept only in Kansas is constitutional or not. That goes as well for the provision that federal agents who run afoul of the Kansas law in their line of duty are subject to arrest, conviction and even prison.

We doubt there will be many issues involving guns, ammo and accessories made, sold and kept only in Kansas.

But we also doubt protecting such transactions was the intent of the bill. Despite its impressive name — the Second Amendment Protection Act — the law is a directed slap at a Democratic president by the staunchly conservative majority in the Kansas Legislature — with the blessing of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and the constitutional expertise of Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The law is a chest-beating act by Kansas lawmakers who resent any hint of gun control. It amounts to telling President Barack Obama — who is nowhere near the threat to the Second Amendment that its Kansas “protectors” seem to think — and both houses of Congress that gun laws they pass won’t pass muster in Kansas because this state knows better.

Maybe it does. Maybe Mr. Kobach’s expertise has led to a law that will withstand constitutional challenge. Maybe avoiding interstate commerce issues, if the Kansas law truly does that, makes it bulletproof.

Then again, maybe the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause will prevail. It provides that the U.S. Constitution and federal laws hold precedence over state constitutions and state laws when federal and state laws conflict.

A showdown seems certain, eventually. As Patricia Stoneking, president of the Kansas State Rifle Association, speculated, a dispute could be triggered when a Kansas gunsmith sells a firearm made in Kansas to a Kansan without complying with federal requirements for a background check or registering the gun.

The day after Gov. Brownback signed the bill into law, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the governor in a letter that the Kansas law is unconstitutional and that the federal government was willing to fight it out in court. Mr. Holder also said, “Kansas may not prevent federal employees and officials from carrying out their official responsibilities. And a state certainly may not criminalize the exercise of responsibilities.”

In his response, the governor said, “The people of Kansas have clearly expressed their sovereign will,” and, curiously, added, “The right to keep and bear arms is a right that Kansans hold dear,” as if that right is in jeopardy.

For his part, Mr. Kobach expressed confidence in the state law and shrugged off the U.S. attorney general’s letter as “blustering.”

We don’t know who will win on the legal issues, but in our view, this law is both unnecessary and spiteful. Perhaps we are in a minority in an increasingly conservative state. But this new law — this triumph for tea partiers in the Kansas Legislature — is not one of our state’s great achievements.

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