FRANKFORT — Lawmakers are pushing three identical bills to exempt Kentucky-made guns and ammunition from federal background checks, dealer licenses and other national regulations if the items remain in the state.
The effort comes as a recent report shows Kentucky is one of the nation's biggest exporters of guns that cross state lines — legally or illegally — and end up at crime scenes in other states, often in cities with tight gun ownership restrictions.
At the same time, one lawmaker who opposes the proposed legislation is pointing to Saturday's mass shooting in Arizona, which left six dead and wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and many others, as evidence Kentucky's guns laws should be strengthened, not weakened.
"This is just an effort to pander to the National Rifle Association and the Tea Party movement, which is shameful given the attempted assassination of a congresswoman over the weekend," said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville.
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Supporters of the proposal said they don't object to any federal gun law in particular. But they want to send a message about states' rights. Congress does not have the authority under the U.S. Constitution to regulate business within a state's borders, they said.
"There is growing concern that there will be, in the future, more federal regulations on firearms," said Rep. Addia Wuchner, R-Florence. "People are really getting frustrated."
The "Kentucky Firearms Freedom Act," assigned to Senate and House committees last week, is similar to laws challenging federal authority that Montana and seven other states enacted during the past two years.
The U.S. Justice Department fought the Montana gun law and prevailed in October in U.S. District Court. That case is on appeal.
In September, a gun-control group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, issued a report that showed 10 states accounted for nearly half of the 43,254 guns that crossed state lines before being recovered at crime scenes in 2009.
Adjusted for population, Kentucky ranked No. 3 with 34.9 crime guns exported per 100,000 residents, more than twice the national average of 14.1. Kentucky's 2009 total was 1,504 crime guns.
The report is based on "crime gun trace data" compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Kentucky ranks so high because it has weak gun control at the state level, said Arkadi Gerney, an aide to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a spokesman for Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Kentucky has passed none of the 10 "common-sense" laws that help keep guns out of the hands of criminals, Gerney said. These include background checks for all handgun buyers at gun shows, a ban on gun possession by violent misdemeanor criminals and required reporting of lost or stolen guns, he said.
"The numbers show that out-of-state criminals and gun traffickers find it's an easy state to get guns in, and that means it's easy for your home-grown criminals as well," Gerney said.
The latest Kentucky proposal is more about states' rights than gun control, sponsors said. Mirroring the arguments made in Montana and other states, they said the Constitution's "commerce clause" gives Congress the power to regulate interstate business only.
Kentucky has some state laws that mirror federal law, such as a ban on selling guns to convicted felons, and those would remain, they added.
"It's a state sovereignty issue for a lot of people. If something is solely made of Kentucky materials and it's kept entirely within the state, then the federal government shouldn't get to control it," said Sen. John Schickel, R-Union.
But Montana was not able to make that case successfully in federal court. Federal officials warned the state that federal gun laws would apply regardless of what its legislature said, prompting a lawsuit by Montana against the U.S. Justice Department.
In dismissing the state's lawsuit Oct. 18, U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy wrote, "Guns manufactured in accordance with the Montana Firearms Freedom Act would be interchangeable economic substitutes with other firearms regardless of the existence of a stamp indicating the weapon was 'Made in Montana.'
"The origin of the firearm is of no importance to a customer whose primary concern is that it functions properly and is especially irrelevant to the buyer whose primary purpose is to avoid federal regulation and registration because he is prohibited from possessing firearms under federal law."