Prosecutors are a pretty conservative bunch. It makes sense that people tasked with locking up the bad guys tend to fall in with fellow tough-on-crime types. That’s why it’s remarkable that prosecutors are stepping up for the second time this session to pull Arkansas lawmakers leftward toward some semblance of sanity after the legislature passed a sovereignty bill to nullify federal gun laws within state borders. The bill also makes it a crime for Arkansas law enforcement officers to enforce federal gun laws.
What will happen if this new “sovereignty” bill takes effect? Federal gun laws prevent convicted felons from owning firearms and require background checks for people buying guns from licensed dealers. Under Senate Bill 298, these laws and others go out the window (although the courts would certainly strike it down quickly and easily because it so clearly violates the supremacy clause establishing that federal laws take precedence over state ones).
Governor Hutchinson vetoed SB 298 Friday, objecting not only to the nullification of federal gun laws but also the criminalization of state and local law enforcement who cooperate with federal agents. In his letter notifying lawmakers of the veto, Hutchinson said:
On a daily basis, our state law enforcement officers assist federal agents in the apprehension of violent criminals in possession of illegal firearms. This bill will not only jeopardize future law enforcement endeavors; but also, it will jeopardize hundreds of federal cases against violent criminals. The testimony of Arkansas law enforcement officers assisting federal officers in the pursuit of violent criminals is critical in those cases. That testimony would be barred and criminalized by SB 298. Additionally, SB 298 would allow those violent criminals to sue Arkansas law enforcement officers for assisting their federal law enforcement counterparts. This is not acceptable.
But lawmakers can override his veto with a simple majority vote. And that could be an easy task, considering the bill passed the House 76-18 and the Senate 28-7.
Prosecutors had the governor’s back and swooped in Friday to support his veto. The Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association reached out to lawmakers with this letter:
This is the second time this session that prosecutors found themselves pulling lawmakers back from the abyss of rebel yells and heteronormativity and public shootouts they’ve so doggedly pursued. Prosecutors piped up earlier in the session to oppose changes to the “Stand Your Ground” bill that would have allowed people to shoot and kill anyone they deemed a threat, even when the shooter was trespassing. Lawmakers ditched the amendment allowing trespassers free rein to shoot people, but kept the meat of the “Stand Your Ground” bill, which is plenty terrible on its own. Prosecutors opposed the bill in 2019 but agreed to stand down this go-round.