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Gun control debate hits Austin: Local representative helping co-author Firearms Protection Act
Since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, gun control has been a hot topic across the country.
Most of the talk has centered on efforts by the Obama Administration to pass additional gun control legislation that would ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines while requiring background checks on all firearm sales. While the U.S. House and Senate have not begun debate on the issue, that hasn't stopped a group of Texas lawmakers from working on legislation to showcase their support of the Second Amendment.
The "Firearms Protection Act" has not been officially filed yet, but Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney) said he is co-authoring the bill with Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), among others.
Sanford said the legislation would reiterate the fact the Texas Constitution recognizes the right for residents to keep and bear arms, while also showing the legislature's support for Gov. Rick Perry and Attorney General Greg Abbott to resist efforts from Washington to restrict this right.
On his website, Toth said the bill would also make any federal law banning semi-automatic weapons or limiting the availability or size of magazines unenforceable in Texas. Those attempting to enforce the laws could face felony charges, Toth said.
"The overreach of the federal administration's executive orders that do not align with the Constitution are not very popular here in Texas," Toth said in a statement.
Sanford added that while he believes states should have the right to regulate firearms within their borders, he doesn't agree with recent legislation passed by the state of New York that heavily restricts specific firearms and magazines.
"The residents in New York need to be very careful about the rights that they give away," Sanford said. "It is more than a state's rights issue -- it is an issue of how much power do we give the executive branch of the federal government. If you look at history, when too much power is ceded to that type of governance, then individual liberties erode."
While Toth's bill may be signed into law, there is debate on how much of an impact it will have on federal law.
Lynne Rambo, a professor at the Texas Wesleyan School of Law, said any federal gun control laws have to pass several tests before they will be considered constitutional under the Second Amendment.
The government must first show that there is a compelling interest in inhibiting gun ownership in any way. If the court finds there is a compelling interest, then the law must be narrowly tailored so that it isn't overly inclusive.
"The compelling interest would be to stop gun violence, in particular mass killings," Rambo said, adding the Supreme Court would likely find that a compelling interest. "The question is going to be how narrowly tailored that law should be. Let me assure you, if they write a law that reaches merely hunters or people defending their own homes with handguns, that won't be found narrowly tailored."
Rambo said the Supreme Court may see efforts to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as narrow enough to pass muster since they have been used in recent mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado.
To pass these gun restrictions, Congress would need to rely on a power in the Constitution that would most likely either be the spending power, or the commerce clause power, Rambo said. One option would be to states to face a reduction in federal funding if they choose not to enforce the law.
"To get everyone to raise the drinking age and to lower the speed limit they withheld federal highway funds," she said. "[In this case], they could reduce the amount of funds that are sent to local law enforcement based on the willingness of the state to adopt laws with respect to guns."
In the case of Toth's bill, Rambo said the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution means federal law would trump state law. She said this is why possession of marijuana is still a federal crime, even though it has been legalized in multiple states.
Regardless of what impact the Texas legislation has, Sanford said the focus should be on enforcing existing gun laws rather then further restricting the Second Amendment.
"None of the executive orders being put out by the Obama Administration would have prevented what happened at Sandy Hook," he said. "If we would just enforce the measures of law that we had, we could actually prevent [these things from happening]."