BOISE — Idaho law enforcement officers who help the federal government confiscate any newly banned firearms or ammunition could get jail time and a $1,000 fine, under a measure introduced by lawmakers on Monday.
The bill seeks to head off possible attempts by President Barack Obama and Congress to outlaw semi-automatic weapons, high-capacity magazines or ammunition following the massacre of Connecticut elementary school students.
Government employees in Idaho who help enforce new federal firearms restrictions or registration requirements would be guilty of a misdemeanor, according to the measure.
The Obama administration has said that it has no plans to confiscate weapons or require national firearms registration. Even so, Republican Rep. Mark Patterson of Boise is among a group of 22 co-sponsors who say this bill is necessary to ensure Idaho residents' "inalienable God-given rights to defend themselves'' are forever protected.
"This law would be violated if an Idaho law enforcement officer knowingly and willingly participated in an action with the purpose of confiscating firearms,'' Patterson told the committee. "The legislation also protects Idaho law enforcement officers from their supervisors ordering them to violate this statute. Supervisors doing so would be in violation of this law and officers would not have to follow such an order.''
Patterson said sheriffs or police could still help seize weapons used in the commission of a felony.
The Idaho Sheriff's Association, which represents all 44 sheriffs from each of the state's counties, wasn't consulted on Patterson's bill and has yet to scrutinize it.
In advance of that, however, Vaughn Killeen, executive director of the association, pointed out that his members and their agencies don't enforce federal laws.
"The feds have their own agents that do that sort of thing,'' Killeen said, adding he wants to take careful look at the proposal to make sure there's nothing in it that would interfere with existing cooperation between local law enforcement and federal agencies.
Those include the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in particular on drug cases where weapons are nearly always found.
"My concern is working relationships because we have so many situations where we work together,'' said Killeen, a former Ada County sheriff.
In January, Obama urged Congress to pass universal background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons. He also issued 23 executive orders on gun safety.
But White House spokesman Jay Carney said none of Obama's proposals "would take away a gun from a single law-abiding American'' and other administration officials have also underscored that their plans wouldn't result in gun seizures — or a national gun registry.
Still, in gun-loving, Washington, D.C.-leery Idaho, lawmakers including Patterson say they're taking nothing for granted.
At Monday's committee hearing, his bill was paired with another shot over the federal government's bow, a measure that seeks to strengthen a three-year-old state law — the "Idaho Firearms Freedom Act'' — that at the time it was passed sought to ban federal regulation of Idaho-made weapons that never leave the state.
If Congress moves to ban any firearm or accessory, according to the new measure, that firearm wouldn't be subject to federal regulation as long as it's never left Idaho's borders. In addition, the bill would forbid federal agents from trying to stop the manufacture of such weapons.
"In 2010, we passed the Firearms Freedom Act... to try to push back on federal government there if they encroach too far into 2nd Amendment rights,'' said Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian. "This is an attempt to strengthen that language.''