Senate Judiciary rewrites House Second Amendment bill to target federal commandeering

Apr. 8—MORGANTOWN — Senate Judiciary took up a Second Amendment bill supported by gun lobbyists but opposed by police, rewrote and fine tuned it, and turned it into something not so loved by the gun lobbyists but supported by police.

The committee began consideration of HB 2694 Tuesday night and wrapped up work Wednesday afternoon.

As it came from the House, HB 2694 was called the Second Amendment Preservation Act. It said, "No agency of this state, political subdivision of this state, or employee of an agency or political subdivision of this state acting in his or her official capacity may ... use agency or department moneys or personnel to investigate, interrogate, detain, detect, or aid a federal agency in whole or in part or arrest persons for federal law enforcement purposes, " including federal firearms laws.

Judiciary chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, undertook the rewrite, changing the name to the Second Amendment Preservation and Anti-Federal Commandeering Act.

The new version prohibits federal commandeering of state law enforcement for enforcing federal firearms laws if the the only offense being pursued is a firearms, weapon or ammunition issue that is legal under West Virginia law.

The same applies to arrest warrants. The bill authorizes the state attorney general to challenge in court unconstitutional federal actions related to firearms and directs the attorney general to develop and publish model policies. It grants immunity to law enforcement officers for complying with the state law.

In House Judiciary, Adam Crawford, vice president of the West Virginia Fraternal Order of Police, spelled out law enforcement's many objections to the bill relating to inherent weaknesses in some state criminal laws and the obstacles it would pose to federal-state interagency task force operations.

Crawford came before Senate Judiciary Tuesday night to say FOP supports the new version. "Everybody's worried about the potential for federal overreach, " he said. FOP supports Second Amendment rights but the House version posed fears of losing federal funds and losing the ability to use federal resources to put violent criminals away.

Ian Masters, president of the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the Commandeering Act falls short of protections in the original bill. Measures in that version sought to protect people involved in simple traffic stops or noise complaints who might get arrested for a full capacity magazine legal under state law.

After hearing from another law enforcement witness who was unfamiliar with the new version but also opposed the old one, Trump took the bill off the agenda.

On Wednesday, some of the discussion involved news reports that President Biden plans to issue a number of gun control executive actions Thursday — including "ghost guns, " homemade weapons without serial numbers—and the possibility over federal overreach on constitutional rights.

Trump took the unusual measure of moving to the vice chair's seat so he could address his thinking behind his rewrite at great length.

The House bill was deeply flawed, he said. It began as a bill to fine and jail police officers for cooperating with federal agents. House Judiciary removed that but the bill still had problems.

The bill contained legislative findings — statements of philosophy behind the bill's provisions — and Trump said some of them were offensive. For instance, one said the trust between firearms owners and state and local agencies "is threatened when state and local agencies are entangled with federal law enforcement."

He commented, "To me, it's just throwing a rock at our partners."

The wording of the bill wasn't limited to firearms, he said, but to all federal law enforcement purposes such as child kidnapping and drug interdiction. "This isn't gonna work and it's going to cause disaster."

He undertook, he said, to more narrowly address the fear of commandeering — federal override of state laws and sovereignty. He took the committee and the audience — in person and virtual — through each portion of his rewrite.

He regretted the CDL doesn't like the rewrite. "The strike-and-insert I offer is more what they should want than what they do want."

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, offered his support, noting he's a gun owner and former county prosecutor, and that he appreciated the extensive work Trump undertook to make the bill better.

The committee passed HB 2694 in a voice vote — with a couple quiet no votes — and sent it to the Senate floor.

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