AUSTIN, Texas – Under a measure advancing in the Texas Capitol, local police officers could be convicted of a crime for enforcing any new federal gun control laws.
Rep. Steve Toth, a newly elected Republican from the Woodlands, said his proposal would prevent officers from carrying out any future federal orders to confiscate assault rifles and ammunition magazines.
"There's a federal law, there's a 30-round magazine right in front of you - what do I do?" Toth said in an interview. The measure known as the Firearm Protection Act "answers that question in spades," he said. It moved Tuesday to the House Committee on Federalism.
President Barack Obama has proposed federal laws banning such weapons, but no such laws currently exist.
Toth's proposal would create a Class A misdemeanor for police officers enforcing any new federal gun regulations. It also would establish cause for the state attorney general to sue anyone who seeks to enforce new federal gun regulations. It is one of several states-rights measures being offered by conservative state lawmakers nationwide in response to federal gun control proposals.
Courts have long upheld the federal government's right to enact new laws, which generally supersede state law. Asked how legal precedent for the supremacy of federal law would affect enforcement of his bill, Toth said he expects a legal challenge.
"It may end up in the Supreme Court," he said.
Several recently elected lawmakers gathered at a news conference Tuesday with Toth and Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff who successfully contested implementation of certain provisions of the Brady gun laws in the 1990s.
"The federal government is not our boss," Mack said. "If there's any place that that's applicable and true, it's the state of Texas."
Referring to Greg Abbott, the attorney general who helped draft the bill, Mack added: "And we've got a great attorney."
Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, R-Collin County and the most senior lawmaker who stood in support of the proposal, said it could become law "if it's not demagogued as an anti-Obama bill."
"This new group of freshman coming in, they're pretty bold," said Laubenberg, who is in her sixth term. "Pretty dynamic. Not just going to sit and let things happen."
Abbott's office confirmed its role in crafting the legislation but distanced itself from the criminal penalties it contains.
"The attorney general does not support a law that would provide any criminal penalties for police officers," said Daniel Hodge, Abbott's top assistant.