A House panel voted Thursday to let Arizonans make their own guns and bullets - and offer them for sale - without having to comply with federal regulations.
Rep. Nancy McLain, R-Bullhead City, said HB2307 is designed to have Arizona exercise its right of sovereignty that is guaranteed under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It says "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
That amendment is routinely cited by those who contend the federal government is usurping states' rights.
McLain said Congress is relying more and more on another constitutional provision which allows the federal government to regulate interstate commerce. More to the point, she said that language is being used to regulate the manufacture of both guns and ammunition.
"Some of us think they have perhaps gone a bit too far on that, and it's time that we start taking steps to reassert our sovereignty as a state," she said.
The legislation approved on a 5-2 margin by the House Judiciary Committee is patterned after an identical measure approved by the Montana Legislature last year.
But McLain said the issue is more than an academic exercise of states' rights. She said there have been various proposals at the federal level that could result in new limits on the rights of Arizonans to purchase guns, whether directly or by making it harder to obtain bullets.
"That is, in effect, taking guns out of the hands of people because ... unless you want to throw it at somebody, a gun without ammunition is basically useless," she said.
McLain said she is even concerned about some proposals which would require identification of bullets.
One, said McLain, would put distinctive numbers on bullets.
Also being discussed is "ballistic fingerprinting" of bullets.
That system, in essence, is based on the idea that each gun leaves a distinct impression on a bullet that passes through the barrel. If all guns are "fingerprinted" before they are sold, police who find a bullet at a crime scene could instantly trace it back to a specific weapon.
"Many of us see this as an attempt to infringe on our Second Amendment rights" to bear arms, she said.
Under the terms of her legislation, guns and ammunition could be manufactured in Arizona as long as it can be made without "significant materials" from elsewhere. Weapons would have to be stamped "Made in Arizona" and could be sold only within the state.
That would not provide carte blanche for Arizonans to make anything they want. Off limits would be the same kind of guns that generally cannot be purchased by individuals under federal laws, including machine guns, mortar launchers or weapons that cannot be carried by one person.
What practical effect the measure would have if it became law is less than clear.
A report prepared by legislative staffers said the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent an open letter to licensed federal firearms dealers in Montana saying that federal law supersedes the new statute.
Several organizations then filed suit in federal court challenging the right of the federal government to control firearms and ammunition manufactured and sold within Montana. That lawsuit is still pending.
While McLain's measure is new, several other perennial bills designed to expand gun rights are set for consideration later this session.
The most sweeping of these would allow any adult to carry a concealed weapon without the requirement that now exists to obtain a permit. That requires fingerprinting, a background check, special training on the law and proof the person knows how to handle the weapon.
Arizona law already allows anyone except convicted felons to carry a gun that is visible.