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Gov. Hutchinson vetoes legislation nullifying federal gun restrictions

by The Associated Press | April 24, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK-- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Friday vetoed legislation that would prohibit local police from enforcing federal gun laws, saying the measure would jeopardize law enforcement and the public.

The Republican governor rejected the measure sent him by the majority-GOP Legislature that would have imposed criminal fines on state and local officers for assisting with enforcing federal firearms restrictions that the bill's backers say infringe on the Second Amendment.

The Legislature could still enact the bill by overriding Hutchinson's veto through a simple majority vote.

"The partnership between state and federal law enforcement officers is essential for the safety of Arkansas citizens," Hutchinson wrote in a letter to legislative leaders. "This bill will break that partnership and put the safety of Arkansans at risk."

It was unclear whether lawmakers would seek an override of Hutchinson's veto. The Legislature is expected to wrap up this year's session on Tuesday.

The bill's sponsor has argued it wouldn't prevent any cooperation with federal authorities, only on current or future restrictions that violate the Second Amendment.

"The federal government is not the law of the land. The Constitution is the law of the land," Republican Sen. Gary Stubblefield, the bill's sponsor, said in a debate on the bill last month Stubblefield did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Lawmakers in more than a dozen states have introduced similar bills this year seeking to nullify federal gun laws. Arizona earlier this month enacted a nullification measure similar to the one Hutchinson vetoed. And several states passed nullification laws under then-President Barack Obama, but judges have found them unconstitutional.

Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor and Homeland Security official, said the bill would jeopardize hundreds of federal criminal cases and could allow offenders to sue Arkansas law enforcement for assisting federal officers.

"I will continue to push back against federal overreach and regulation, but criminalizing cooperation with the federal government is not the solution," he wrote.

Hutchinson said there are multiple examples of local police assisting federal authorities in enforcing such gun restrictions, citing as an example his prosecution of the leaders of a white supremacist group as a U.S. attorney in the 1980s.

"Had this law been in place, that joint operation could never have taken place," he told The Associated Press.

Hutchinson, however, said he planned to allow a similar bill restricting the federal regulation of guns manufactured in the state to become law without his signature. The governor said that measure has constitutional problems, but said he didn't believe it would have the same harmful consequences as the bill he vetoed.

A similar 2009 law in Montana was struck down by federal courts.

The governor said he is still reviewing another nullification bill lawmakers sent him that would require the Legislature to ratify any federal gun restrictions.

The veto is Hutchinson's latest rebuke of legislative Republicans, who have sent him a series of "culture wars" measures. The governor earlier this month vetoed legislation banning gender confirming treatments for transgender youth, but lawmakers easily overrode him the next day and enacted the ban.

Hutchinson, who headed a National Rifle Association task force that called for armed, trained school personnel after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting in 2012, last month signed legislation loosening the state's restrictions on the use of deadly force in self-defense.

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