Council takes shot at gun bill stepping on municipal rules

Posted: Monday, May 23, 2005

A bill disallowing restrictions on firearms overwhelmingly passed in the Alaska House and Senate on May 7, and awaits the signature of Gov. Frank Murkowski to take effect. Though few, the bill has dissenters.

Soldotna City Manager Tom Boedeker took issue with the bill at the Soldotna City Council meeting Wednesday. Council members requested Boedeker contact the governor's office to express dismay.

The legislation states that no state, municipality or person may adopt or enforce a law, ordinance, policy or rule that prohibits an individual from possessing firearms while that person is in a motor vehicle, or from storing a firearm locked in that vehicle while it is parked on state, municipal and private property. The bill applies to those who legally possess firearms under state and federal law.

An amendment reads that municipalities may enact ordinances restricting weapon discharge where life or property may be jeopardized, restrict where guns are sold and prohibit the possession of firearms in restricted access areas of municipal government buildings.

Boedeker said the bill may have started out well intended, but creates unneeded confusion.

"This is an infringement on local authority. That's why we have municipalities — to do what's best for different communities and to have local autonomy to fashion to the needs of a community. That's why municipalities were formed," he said. "It leaves zoning intact, but they've clouded it up and it's not a direct path."

Boedeker sees the bill as infringing on municipalities' ability to set local precedent.

"The law says you can have checkpoints at common access areas. Can we ban it in a park? No," he said. "It's a question of why we have to have a one-size-fits-all law. Why have municipalities at all, other than to pay bills? That seems to be the way this is looking."

Cities have the ability to set standards for local purposes. That could change with HB 184, where a city would not be able to adopt any kind of regulations that are not in state law regarding firearms.

The bill states, "The authority to regulate firearms is reserved to the state, and, except as specifically provided by statute, a municipality may not enact or enforce an ordinance regulating the possession, ownership, sale, transfer, use, carrying, transportation, licensing, taxation, or registration of firearms,"

Sue Wright, staff member representing Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Kenai, the bill's author, said the original legislation was a result of Chenault's desire to lessen the differences in municipality rules regarding firearm restrictions.

"If you started driving in Homer and through Fairbanks carrying a gun in the vehicle, no matter where you went you would be breaking the law in one to five municipalities," Wright said. "This legislation was created to force municipalities to conform to state law."

Wright said the legislation addresses a "big problem" that the National Rifle Association has recognized.

"The gist is to have municipalities mark where people can and cannot discharge a firearm," she said.

Wright said municipalities will still have the right to restrict the carrying and selling of firearms wherever they see fit. However, cities will lose the ability to restrict where people carry guns in their automobiles.

The pending restrictions will have stipulations that apply directly to citizens, too.

Sen. Hollis French, D-An-chorage, one of three senators who voted against the bill, said the legislation takes a step over the line in restricting private property rights.

"If you're a private property owner, you can't tell people to leave if they bring guns. If you have a private business, you wouldn't be able to tell your employees they could not bring a gun to work, because under (HB 184), you would be making a rule," French said.

"This is an erosion of my rights. The gun laws exist now between you and the government, and has never applied between two people," he said.

Boedeker said limitations like this should be taken to the voters. He is preparing a letter to the governor regarding the matter.

Becky Hultberg, spokesperson for the governor, said the office does not comment on what Gov. Murkowski might do.

"That said, the governor has typically been very supportive of second amendment rights," Hultberg said

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