Legislature(1993 - 1994)
09/17/1993 06:00 PM STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
CHAIRMAN LEMAN called the Senate State Affairs Committee meeting to order and advised the meeting was convened as a work session to review the resolutions although public testimony will be taken. ANNETTE KREITZER, Staff to Chairman Leman, presented the sponsor statement on his behalf for SJR 4. She claimed that language contained in the Alaska Constitution is ambiguous and there have been numerous legislative attempts to clarify the right of an individual to own a firearm, regardless of the use of the firearm. Further, no Alaska Supreme Court interpretation has been done. In concluding her comments, she stated ". . . the individual right of Alaskans to own firearms for legal purposes should not be left open for unreasonable government intrusion or potential erosion of that right or to uncertain court interpretation." CHAIRMAN LEMAN noted the differences between SJR 34 and SJR 1, also under consideration. SJR 1 contains a provision that the amendment would not change any municipal law related to firearms that is in effect on the date of ratification of the amendment (November, 1994). Number 10.33 PORTIA BABCOCK, Committee Aide to Chairman Leman, speaking on her own behalf and the NRA, elaborated on the differences between the resolutions. The main difference being Section 2, added in SJR 2 (referenced above), and that the resolution does not effect the judicial standard of review. CHAIRMAN LEMAN questioned MS. BABCOCK about existing borough or municipal laws that may be troublesome to firearm owners. MS. BABCOCK responded that the concealed weapons laws and ordinances of municipalities were of most concern. With regard to the Municipality of Anchorage, if the state enacted a concealed weapons statute which would allow citizens to carry concealed weapons, it would be directly in conflict with a municipal ordinance currently in effect. SENATOR LEMAN proceeded to call upon the following public witnesses. MS. BONNIE WILLIAMS, Board of Directors of the Alaska Second Amendment Coalition (ASAC) testified on their behalf. She is also a life member of the National Rifle Association (NRA). She supports SJR 34, and not SJR 1. She thought a conservation estimate would be twice as many firearms as people in Alaska; and in Fairbanks, probably 98 percent of households have at least one firearm. She commented on the high number of firearm-related activities, including people living by way of subsistence which includes all seasonal hunting, and recreational uses. She then addressed the constitutional rights and privileges regarding possession of firearms and the need to preserve that freedom. She supports the passage of SJR 34 so the issue will be placed on the ballot for vote. CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked MS. WILLIAMS for clarification of the reason they do not support SJR 1. She responded that if the state constitution was amended, it should take precedence over local or municipal laws and ordinances; and she would prefer that nothing be left up to judicial review. Number 20.21 MR. GARY HAMMOND testified in support of SJR 34 and in opposition to SJR 1. The reason for his opposition to SJR 1 is based on language in Section 29 concerning existing firearm laws, and difficulty with some other language contained in the resolution. He also questioned the provision of judges having the authority to interpret the law's intent; he prefers explicit language. MR. NOEL NAPOLILLI, Chairman, Alaska Second Amendment Coalition, spoke in favor of SJR 34 and in opposition to SJR 1, for the same reasons stated by previous speakers. He commented on the need for the resolution such as the situation where the Attorney General's Office issued a letter instructing the state troopers not to sign Form Four for people who have applied for Class III weapons ownership. The reason he felt this was done was because the administration doesn't want the proliferation of those weapons among people. He has letters which have been circulated that bear this out. He commented that this example illustrated the unreasonable infringement by the administration, or any administration, which should not have the power to limit citizens' access to weapons just because they don't like them. SJR 34 would help protect the citizens from that kind of abuse of authority. MR. KENNETH MAAHS, private investigator, was next to testify. Drawing from his experience in this area, he believes attempts to regulate gun ownership has not worked in reducing crimes. Rather, when you cut the ownership of firearms to citizens, the criminals have a larger chance to commit crimes. He felt that anytime you hinder people's right to defend themselves, it benefits the criminals. He felt the police are unable to adequately defend the citizens against criminals with weapons. Of the two resolutions, he favored SJR 34; and stressed the need for clear, concise language for the amendment. Number 31.23 MR. LES ZERBE commented on the need for a state's constitution to be in agreement with the federal constitution which is clear to the individual's right to protect himself. He said the intent of the federal constitution, and framers of it, was for individuals to be able to protect themselves from their own government should it become necessary. So, provisions excluding certain kinds of firearms should not be included in any language of the state constitution as it was never intended for the military to become more powerful than its citizenry. He thought that if the law allowed everyone to carry a weapon, it would go a long way in protecting us from the criminal element in society. MR. ZERBE supports SJR 34 which would put specific language guaranteeing firearm ownership in the state's constitution. The language should include latitude to allow concealed weapons for qualified individuals. CHAIRMAN LEMAN asked his thought about limitations placed on children carrying firearms in school and what he would consider a "reasonable" restriction. MR. LES ZERBE responded that "reasonable" would include specific age, such as 18; and could contain other restrictions, such as having a clean record, and having firearms training. MR. BRUCE CAMPBELL testified on behalf of the Tanana Valley Sportsmen's Association in support of efforts to clarify Section 19 of the Alaska Constitution. He referenced the opinion from the Attorney General's Office that "Section 19 `in the modern judicial view', only applied to the right of the state to form a national guard, possibly militia". They disagree with that opinion and find it extraneous and think it contributes to the reason why further clarification is needed. They favor the old language that was once SJR 1 (prior to new complicated language being added); and like SJR 34. It is his understanding, based on legal opinions from other states, that an individual right, such as this, does not restrict the police power of the state. As an instructor of firearms, he commented on the female's different attitude about safety and protection and increased interest in this area. Number 40.20 CHAIRMAN LEMAN thanked him for testifying and asked about the Attorney General's opinion which he referenced. MR. CAMPBELL indicated it was from former Attorney General Norm Gorsuch and that he would provide a copy to the committee. CHAIRMAN LEMAN stated the committee would make whatever materials they have available to others upon request. TAPE 93-32, SIDE B Number .02 MISS GRACE MAAHS expressed her thoughts about the appropriate use of firearms, including training, and retaining individual possession for personal protection. MR. DOUGLAS ALBRIGHT, twenty-two year resident of Fairbanks, testified in support of SJR 34. He felt that SJR 1 contained fairly vague and ambiguous language which was open to interpretation. Regarding carrying firearms in schools, he stated that that action was covered by the federal Omnibus Crime Control Act, which made it illegal for anyone to carry firearms in school except for official purposes or school-sponsored activities. He expressed the need for a clear and simple state law in this area, such as that contained in SJR 34. MR. TIMOTHY BAUMGARTNER, twenty-three resident of Fairbanks, spoke in favor of SJR 34. He travels in the wilderness and is concerned about retaining the ability to protect himself. Weapons in his home are used for several purposes: to hunt and provide food for families; to use them for protection from those that might harm them; and used as a means of teaching responsibility. He said that "having firearms is a traditional freedom" provided for by the Constitution. Number 5.17 MR. DAVID WILLIAMS, also a resident of Fairbanks, addressed the historical perspective, especially as it related to the development of what was called (by British Jurist Sir William Blackstone) "the common law" which later became a part of American law in the form of the Bill of Rights. He paraphrased Sir Blackstone: "the right of self defense is an inherent right of man, older than states, and older than constitutions." So, the second amendment right is a right we have which cannot be taken away. He questioned whether the second amendment (U.S. Constitution) were inserted into the Alaska Constitution, if it would solve our problems. CHAIRMAN LEMAN responded that the Alaska Constitution is written very similarly to the U.S. Constitution; therein lies the problem, as we no longer think in terms of militia charged with protecting citizens from government intrusion. Further, some state courts, but not Alaska at present, are dealing with the distinction between the individual and collective right. MR. WILLIAMS referred to the language contained in Rhode Island law which states "the right of the individual to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." He suggested that anyone interested call the Attorney General of that state as the law has worked quite well and they do not have problems controlling felons or anyone else from weapons ownership. Further, he said the Director of Public Safety mentioned that he was in favor of firearm ownership for purposes of safety as it pertains to the concealed weapon law. He concluded that if we do not get this through, we may loose other rights, too. CHAIRMAN LEMAN returned to the issue of using the language from the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution for Alaska. He commented that the language is the same; however, with various interpretations, it has led to the need for further clarification. MR. WILLIAMS felt that the use of the collective term "people" (Bill of Rights) also referred to the individual, as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Number 13.30 MR. TOM GORHAM spoke in favor of SJR 34 and not SJR 1 because SJR 34 eliminates much of the ambiguity and simplifies the law. He favors a concealed weapon plan and agrees it should be controlled to the point that the person applying for the permit should meet reasonable standards: meet age requirement, legally authorized to own a weapon, and training with weapons. He would like to see some restrictions removed, such as carrying a concealed weapon but not in public places; or carrying it in a vehicle if it is loaded. He felt if a person was deemed qualified to carry a weapon, it is arbitrary to limit it to certain locations or under special circumstances. MR. GORHAM referred to the discussion of firearms for use by the militia versus individuals. He felt it was intended to address the individual need to carry firearms and that the language was dated and no longer pertinent in today's terminology or use. In response to Chairman Leman's question about firearms at schools, he reiterated that these problems are dealt with by other laws. CHAIRMAN LEMAN discussed the previous legislative attempts to require training in firearms and water safety. MR. GORHAM said that given the misleading media exposure, he would like to see more attention given to providing training on the proper use of firearms. Number 25.38 MS. SUE WILKEN, legislative chair, Fairbanks School Board, spoke on its behalf. She is also a thirty-eight year resident of Fairbanks and avid hunter and fisherwoman. The Board's main concern focusses on the political divisions of the state. The school board has designated the school and school ground as being gun-free zones. Parents are concerned with guns being carried across school grounds during hunting season and parents picking up children with gun racks in their cars. The schools are able to enforce laws prohibiting guns in school through the federal law. However, they are charged with the responsibility of assuring safety on school grounds (not contained in federal law), so they support a gun-free designation in state law pertaining to the school grounds. MS. SUE WILKEN described the situation in Fairbanks in which an armed parent was on school grounds in a truck, intending to threaten/harm a student. The board feels that the message needs to be clear that no weapons are permitted there; that school grounds, as well as the buildings, are safe. MR. STEVE COLBOCH, a firearms dealer, fully supports SJR 34. He is opposed to restricting firearms, such as in the above situation, as a parent may pick up a child from school with plans of going hunting immediately. He felt the example was an isolated instance and that authorities should have been called if the man was posing a threat. TAPE 93-33, SIDE A Number .01 MR. COLBOCH continued his testimony regarding the need to address this issue. CHAIRMAN LEMAN talked about the committee's intent to get the resolution out and voted on. MR. NOEL NAPOLILLI returned to the table to comment on the issue of weapons on school grounds. He felt that posting the school grounds was meaningless in this example. The only people who will pay attention to the restriction will be law-abiding citizens which pose no threat. He thought there were enough restrictions regarding the use of children using firearms. MS. BONNIE WILLIAMS testified again on this issue. She commented on laws prohibiting carrying firearms on planes, and that the school board would not be prohibited from making a ruling about firearms on school grounds. CHAIRMAN LEMAN thanked all the participants for their contributions, and talked about the distinctions between the resolutions. He stated further testimony would be forthcoming during the session. The committee plans to have additional work sessions, including Anchorage on November 21-22, and other locations. CHAIRMAN LEMAN adjourned the meeting at 7:40 p.m.