To a far-right state senator who wants to knock off a suddenly unpopular Wyoming Republican congresswoman next year, sponsoring a bill called the Second Amendment Preservation Act probably seemed like a sure vote-getter.
Instead, Sen. Anthony Bouchard (R-Cheyenne) looked stunned last week at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Senate File 81- Second Amendment Preservation Act as law enforcement officials compared him to the GOP’s No. 1 anti-gun villain, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California).
“[SF 81] merely copied [President Joe Biden’s] administration and Nancy Pelosi’s effort to demonize law enforcement in the name of, in this case, the Second Amendment,” said Byron Oedekoven, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police.
“I see that the hypocrisy of this bill knows no bounds,” Sweetwater County Sheriff John Grossnickle said, “and frankly it’s a sad, sad day for law enforcement in the state of Wyoming if this bill proceeds the way it is.”
Ouch! What did Bouchard do to offend his law-and-order constituency?
His bill is intended to send a message to Washington, D.C., Bouchard said, that Wyoming won’t stand for any new federal laws that put gun owners at risk of losing their constitutional rights. “Washington D.C.” in this case is a thinly veiled reference to Rep. Liz Cheney, whom he’s challenging in next year’s primary.
If a message is what the former director of Wyoming Gun Owners was after, he should have sponsored a joint resolution that, while not a law, would have passed overwhelmingly and made voters feel good about telling the fictional yet infinitely politically useful D.C. gun grabbers they shouldn’t mess with Wyoming.
Instead, Bouchard went the full Monty, sponsoring a bill that would make cops vulnerable to lawsuits and the possible termination of their jobs by stripping them of so-called qualified immunity.
That’s what earned WASCOP’s ire.
Bouchard’s first mistake in SF 81, however, was to declare that the federal government has no constitutional right to enact “any federal statutes, executive orders, court orders, rules, regulations or other actions that collect data or restrict or prohibit the manufacture, ownership and use of firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition exclusively within the borders of Wyoming.”
Because it does have such powers, of course. States can’t simply ignore federal laws, as several people reminded the Judiciary Committee.
“From the inception of this country, constitutional law has been very clear on this issue: There are no states’ rights to nullify federal law,” said Linda Burt, former director of the ACLU’s Wyoming chapter. “The Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down these laws, and will continue to. The case law is very strong as far back as 1824.”
Legislators pushing SAPA laws here and in 14 other states know this. They just don’t care. That’s because their real objective isn’t nullification, it’s scoring political points. That they’re wasting the people’s time and money — very real money when it comes to defending unconstitutional laws in court — is of no concern, so long as they get to blast the Biden administration and beat their chest about being gun champions.
Polls show that nearly 90% of Americans support the types of expanded background checks the administration is calling for. But again, who cares? Bouchard and his ilk aren’t running to represent or uphold mainstream American values. They’re running to win red-state Republican primaries where extremism is the order of the day — the gun nuttier, the better.
“The whole idea is that we have a shift in Washington and they actually want to use everything they can to go after our guns. … We have an out-of-control federal government,” Bouchard said.
WASCOP officials, who take every chance to declare their undying support for the Second Amendment, said SF 81 puts peace officers in the untenable position of being sued and/or terminated for working on cases with federal law enforcement agencies.
“Frankly [the bill] would scare most officers and deputies into not seizing a firearm for any reason whatsoever, and sure as heck not talking to any federal law enforcement about investigations,” said Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson.
But the bill’s problems run deeper than law enforcement concerns. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne), whose vote killed a 2020 version of the now-perennial bill over its definition of a “law-abiding citizen,” raised the issue anew. The bill defines it as “an individual who is not otherwise precluded under state law from possessing a firearm and shall not be construed to include anyone who is not legally present in the United States or the state of Wyoming.”
The law could have some gun owners thinking federal laws don’t apply to them, Nethercott said. Bouchard replied that his bill is “part of a push and shove, and [the feds are] going to shove back and we’re going to see where we’re at.”
Essentially, Bouchard is willing to put residents at risk of prosecution to prove that the federal government overstepped its bounds. Law-abiding citizens, he contended, don’t have anything to worry about.
Nethercott said she finds the term “nonsensical.”
“This is kind of associated with the concept of, ‘Don’t tread on me,’ right?” she asked. “So when the government is making criminals out of law-abiding citizens, how can one really be a law-abiding citizen at the end of the day?”
Despite her hard line of questioning this year, Nethercott inexplicably voted with the other four members of the panel and advanced SF 81 to the full Senate. Bouchard offered no amendments to address WASCOP’s criticism, and said he’d fix it on the floor.
Nethercott pushed Bouchard’s buttons but, as an attorney, she knows HB 81 is unconstitutional. She demonstrated no leadership in voting for the bill’s survival.
Burt cited a real-life example that showed the folly of such laws. After Kansas passed its SAPA in 2013, she noted, a military surplus company relied on the state law to manufacture and sell short-barrel rifles and silencers that were against federal law.
The business owner and a customer were both convicted of a federal felony, Burt said, and the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear their appeal in 2019.
Those poor fall guys notwithstanding, the strategy isn’t only good GOP politics, it’s also good for business.
Remember how former President Barack Obama was going to take everyone’s guns away? CNN called him “the best gun salesman in America.” During his eight years in office, handgun sales grew by 287% annually, while rifle and shotgun sales rose 166%.
Gun rights had actually been expanded by the time Obama left office. Visitors were allowed to bring concealed, loaded guns to national parks and wildlife refuges. Who had banned them? Ronald Reagan. But why let facts get in the way of a good wedge issue?
Gun sales shot up again last year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest, according to industry analysts.
Now Biden is the boogeyman. More than 2 million guns were sold in January, the highest number in six years.
Bouchard sponsored SF 81 to capitalize on gun owners’ fears. Instead, he had to swallow Grossnickle’s claim: “With this legislation, Wyoming is going to become the little sister to some in Washington, D.C., who believe abolishing qualified immunity, demonizing law enforcement and ultimately defunding the police is the answer to the problem.”
Imagine Bouchard, figuratively joined at the hip with the Black Lives Matter movement and other progressive protesters. The damage won’t stick, but that had to sting. His fellow lawmakers — who passed SF 81 on its initial reading in the Senate on Monday despite acknowledging its questionable legality and potential negative impacts — should learn from Bouchard’s gaffe and ensure his ridiculous bill doesn’t become law.