I’m going to step outside the realm of hunting and fishing and talk about an obviously related topic: gun ownership. While the Second Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with hunting per se, this constitutionally guaranteed right assures us the ability to pursue that outdoor activity with a firearm if we so choose.
Our state House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 69, which would make enforcing any new federal gun restriction legislation by federal officials illegal under state law. Federal officials would be subject to arrest and could be charged with a state felony violation. Several other states have either passed or are working on passing similar legislation. Before HB 69 would become law in Alaska, the state Senate needs to pass the bill and the governor has to sign it. This legislation is far from being a done deal here.
The Frontiersman ran the first part of a two-part article in Tuesday’s edition where the author, John Aronno, basically took the state House to task for passing what he considers to be a very bad bill. He explained how federal law trumps state law, making HB 69 unconstitutional to begin with, and went on to suggest that by passing that bill, Alaska is somehow moving into a secessionist mind frame.
Aronno goes on to talk about how passing such legislation sets the very dangerous precedent of a state essentially cherry picking the federal legislation it is willing to comply with. Maybe I’m being naïve here, but I think Aronno is overanalyzing HB 69 to the extreme.
I listened to a television news report where U.S. Sen. Mark Begich addressed the joint houses of the state Legislature the other day. The news ran the sound bite where Begich spoke to HB 69. To paraphrase his comment, Begich said, “HB 69 is a statement — it’s unconstitutional, but it’s a statement — I get it!” His last six words reflect exactly, in my mind at least, what the Legislature was trying to do with this bill.
I don’t think our state Legislature is looking to pick and choose what federal laws it will comply with. If that were the case, we wouldn’t now be dealing with the whole duel management of subsistence hunting and fishing around the state. That would have been near the top of the list of federal laws to ignore from the get-go at the state level!
I also don’t think the Legislature is looking to secede from the union. We asked to become a state and, whether we love or hate the federal government, it is to our mutual benefit to remain a state. I think HB 69 is intended to do exactly what Sen. Begich said — make a statement to the federal Congress that Alaska does not support any further gun control legislation.
Here’s one reason why more gun control is meaningless in the real world. Back in January in a meeting with Vice President Biden, the NRA director of federal affairs, Jim Baker, spoke to the need to vigorously enforce existing gun laws, specifically, the lack of enforcement for lying on a Form 4473, used by federal firearms dealers in the transfer of a firearm. The vice president replied, “And to your point, Mr. Baker, regarding the lack of prosecutions on lying on Form 4473s, we simply don’t have the time or manpower to prosecute everybody who lies on a form, that checks a wrong box, that answers a question inaccurately.”
Here are some numbers regarding the background check forms. In 2010, more than 72,600 Form 4473s were denied based on a background check. The people filling out these forms said they were legal to own a firearm but the background check showed otherwise; that’s perjury, a felony punishable by up to a 10-year prison sentence. Of the 72,600-plus denied forms, only 62 cases were investigated and made and only 40 of those were actually pursued by prosecutors. Yet, you are currently hearing the call for universal background checks for any transfer of a firearm by anyone, not just those done by dealers using the Form 4473. In light of this 0.0009 percent enforcement record, what practical use would universal background checks have?
I think HB 69 serves the useful purpose of making a statement of how Alaskans feel about further gun control. Since the feds seem to routinely hold a deaf ear to various states’ views and concerns, this is one method to get their attention. I hope they get the message!
Howard Delo is an Outdoors columnist for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman and a retired fisheries biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.