A measure that would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies and other public officials from enforcing federal firearms bans in Kentucky is now headed to the governor.
House Bill 153 – sponsored by Rep. Josh Bray (R-Mount Vernon) – cleared the Senate with a 27-9 vote Wednesday following a lengthy debate over constitutional law and the relationship between state and federal government.
Sen. Lindsey Tichenor (R-Smithfield) presented HB 153 on the chamber floor, saying that nothing in the bill would prevent the federal government from enforcing its own firearms restrictions or prohibit the General Assembly from enacting new gun laws in the future.
“What is in this bill is the affirmation that Kentuckians, and only Kentuckians, should decide the future of our Second Amendment rights,” she said.
HB 153 applies to federal laws or regulations that have been enacted on firearms, ammunition, and accessories since Jan. 1, 2021. Violators could face misdemeanor charges under the bill and termination from their jobs.
Tichenor said any federal laws enacted prior to 2021 could still be enforced by Kentucky law enforcement. She noted that 14 other states have passed similar legislation and 115 Kentucky counties have adopted similar resolutions.
But lawmakers debated the measure on the Senate floor for nearly an hour, sparring over how it would impact police and how it would conform to the U.S. Constitution.
One opponent, Senate Minority Whip David Yates (D-Louisville), said the measure would make those who enforce the law into criminals.
“We’re going to make police officers who do this criminals and jail them. Is that what this body’s going to do today?” he said.
Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas (D-Lexington) voted against the bill, citing similar concerns.
“To say that our police departments, our police forces or police, if they try to enforce that legal constitutional law are going to be criminalized, I’m opposed to that. And that’s why I’m voting no,” Thomas said.
The majority of lawmakers supported the measure, including Sen. Stephen West (R-Paris). He called some of the main arguments against the bill “patently absurd.”
“The state of Kentucky does not have the responsibility to enforce any federal law,” West said. “That responsibility resides in Washington. It is a federal responsibility. The enforcement of federal law, and when we help the federal government when we cooperate with them, it is at our sole discretion as a state. We are a sovereign state.”
West said if the law is to be enforced, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives could be used.
“Plenty of federal tax dollars go to Washington to fund the ATF, and if they want to enforce, they can use the ATF,” he said.
Information came from a release by the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission.