WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday rejected arguments that a Kansas law can shield from federal prosecution anyone owning firearms made, sold and kept in the state — a ruling that casts doubt on the legality of similar laws passed in nine states across the nation.
The decision handed down by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten allows federal firearms charges against Shane Cox and Jeremy Kettler to stand. The ruling clears the way for their sentencing on Monday.
Jurors in November returned eight guilty verdicts against Cox, the owner of Tough Guys gun store in Chanute, under the National Firearms Act for illegally making and marketing unregistered firearms, including a short-barreled rifle and gun silencers. Kettler was found guilty on one count of possession of an unregistered silencer.
The Kansas Second Amendment Protection Act, which passed in 2013, says firearms, accessories and ammunition manufactured and kept within the borders of Kansas are exempt from federal gun control laws. Kansas modeled its law on a Montana law that an appeals court has found to be invalid, according to court filings.
Similar firearm nullification laws have been signed into law in nine states. In addition to Montana and Kansas, other states having them include Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming, according to Everytown For Gun Safety, which advocates common-sense gun control laws.
Noting the significant interest the case against Cox and Kettler has generated in Kansas and beyond, Marten wrote in his 13-page decision that he is bound to uphold the U.S. Constitution and laws as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court and the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The judge then proceeded to cite those earlier rulings in rejecting every constitutional argument raised by the defense in the Kansas gun case.
"As a district court judge, I am not empowered to do what I think is most fair — I am bound to follow the law," Marten wrote.
Defense attorneys argued that the National Firearms Act — a part of the Internal Revenue code enacted under Congress' power to levy taxes — is unconstitutional because it amounts to "regulatory punishment" rather than imposition of a valid federal tax. They also contended that the federal law violated the Second Amendment as well as Tenth Amendment state rights protections of the U.S. Constitution.
But Marten was unpersuaded, noting that the nation's highest court ruled 80 years ago that the National Firearms Act is valid exercise of Congressional taxing power. As such, it supersedes a state law, he said. Marten also rejected the Second Amendment arguments raised.
Kettler's attorney, Ian Clark, separately asked the court for leniency at sentencing, calling his client a good man "caught in the crossfire of a political strong arm contest." The two men, like many other Kansans, were under the mistaken belief that the Kansas Second Amendment Protection Act was valid and protected them from federal prosecution.
"Now that this prosecution has taken place and received fairly wide media attention, any need for deterrence has been satisfied simply by making the community aware that the federal government will prosecute possession of firearm accessories like these regardless of the Kansas law," Clark said.