"I want to make sure the citizens of this state know that this Legislature is doing its best to make sure the original intent of the Constitution is followed," said Sen. Paul Sanford, R- Huntsville, the bill's sponsor.
Sanford's bill states that it would grant the state the power to "nullify federal gun laws that violate the Second Amendment." The bill also states that "all federal acts, laws, orders, rules, or regulations regarding firearms are a violation of the Second Amendment."
Sanford said his intent was not to nullify all federal gun laws. In debate in on the Senate floor, and in remarks to reporters after the bill's passage, Sanford said his bill would give the Legislature the power to ask Alabama's attorney general whether a federal gun law violates the Second Amendment. If the attorney general found that the law did violate the Second Amendment, he said, state officials wouldn't have to enforce it.
"They're not going to use our law enforcement officials to enforce their law that is unconstitutional," Sanford said.
Sanford later said the the "all federal acts" wording was "just a finding" and that it didn't necessarily nullify all federal gun laws.
"That's not my intent, but if you'd like to, we have the ability," Sanford said.
Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, challenged the bill on the Senate floor, saying that it was unconstitutional and a violation of the supremacy clause in the U.S. Constitution.
Even some supporters of the bill seemed to think it wouldn't meet a court challenge. Sen. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, told reporters that nullification, as a strategy, hasn't worked since the 19th-century Nullification Crisis — a conflict that pitted President Andrew Jackson against states opposed to a federal tariff.
Senate records show Brewbaker voted for Sanford's bill anyway. So did Sen. Del Marsh, R-Anniston; Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville; and Sen. Jerry Fielding, R- Sylacauga.
Sanford's bill appears to be a near word-for-word copy of model legislation offered by the Tenth Amendment Center, a group that promotes state's rights.
“The federal government has no power to regulate guns,” said Mike Maharrey, a spokesman for the center. “That’s left to the states.”
Maharrey said the center’s model legislation was intended to let state and local law enforcement agencies opt out of enforcing federal gun laws.
Asked if there were gun laws currently on the books that he found unconstitutional, Sanford said he couldn't think of any. He said he did object to the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, which has expired.
Sanford said he had no problem with the background checks currently required for some purchasers under federal law. He said he did oppose the idea of charging people for concealed-carry pistol permits.
Pistol permits are issued by sheriffs, with fees set at the local level.
After the vote, Anniston's senator reiterated his support for the bill.
"I don't want the federal government telling us what we can do with our gun laws," Marsh said.
The bill moves on to the House of Representatives, where it must pass and get the governor’s signature before becoming law. The bill would have to move quickly to reach the governor’s desk: the Legislature is nearing the end of its 30-day session.
HOW THEY VOTED
Marsh (R-Anniston) Yes
Dial (R-Lineville) Yes
Fielding (R-Sylacauga) Yes
A yes vote would support a state power to nullify federal gun laws.