"I'm not comfortable telling my constituents to go ahead and do something that'll land them in jail just because I don't like the way the federal government regulates things," Gara said.
Rep. Max Gruenberg, D-Anchorage, said the measure was unconstitutional and unenforceable, and it distracts the Legislature from more important measures, including a rewrite of state oil tax law.
A fellow Anchorage Democrat, Andy Josephson, said he thought the measure was "secessionist talk." Maybe the House is just trying to make a statement, he said, but it's the Legislature's job to cull out what can't work. He's newly elected and only took the oath of office 41 days earlier. Now he's being asked to violate his vow to uphold the constitution, he said.
'LAWS THAT HAPPEN TO US'
Rep. Benjamin Nageak, a Democrat from Barrow who is aligned with the Republicans, said too many times, the federal government took action that affected Alaska Natives -- creating national parks and refuges, for instance -- without them even realizing what was happening. He said he was torn on the gun measure. But he didn't like "all these laws that happen to us."
"I've got to admit, I have a Mini-14 and I use it all the time for hunting," Nageak said, referring to a popular semi-automatic rifle. "I really don't want to give up what I have right now."
Rep. Doug Isaacson, R-North Pole, said in his view, the Second Amendment lets citizens possess the same weapons as the military.
"Therefore, if the government can afford an F-22, and I as a private citizen can afford to own an F-22, this article gives me the right to own exactly the same kind of armament that the federal government has," Isaacson said. "That may sound like it's way on the edge."
But the citizenry is supposed to be able to protect itself on equal footing, he said.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said the legal opinion on constitutionality just comes from one lawyer. Maybe it's wrong, she said.
Former U.S. Attorney Bob Bundy said in an interview that it is well established that the state Legislature cannot void a federal law.
House Bill 69 "is not worth the paper it is written on," he said.
If the measure becomes law, and if Congress did pass a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles, it's not clear that state law enforcement authorities would have much appetite for filing felony charges against federal agents.
Any such cases would likely end up in federal court anyway, Richard Svobodny, deputy attorney general over the criminal division, said recently.
Back in the mid-1980s, troopers charged federal fish and wildlife agents with illegally shooting a sow that was hanging around a fuel barrel and interfering with their efforts to refuel a plane and leave, said Bill Ingaldson, who at the time was the junior state prosecutor who handled the case.
The case was moved to federal court and the federal agents argued they were immune because they were on the job. After a court ruling in favor of the federal agents, "the case went away," Ingaldson said in an interview. The thinking was "this is kind of crazy, to have law enforcement officers arresting each other."
SCARVES FROM NORDSTROM
In wrapping up the debate, Millett said nothing is more pressing to Alaskans than gun rights, disagreeing with Gruenberg. As to Gara's concerns, she said, maybe he should introduce legislation repealing state marijuana laws, since state law is more liberal than federal law.