UPDATE: Helena-West Helena will obey federal gun law, mayor says. Gun safety group calls for veto.

Second Amendment

Helena-West Helena Mayor Kevin Smith sent me a message this morning about the “Arkansas Sovereignty” law heading to Governor Hutchinson that declares the state won’t enforce gun laws it believes to be unconstitutional.

The governor has said these laws trouble him. A veto likely would be speedily overridden, however.

This would bring to pass just what Rep. Ashley Hudson noted as a serious flaw in the gun laws — a “crazy quilt” of enforcement, with some local authorities honoring federal law and others rejecting it.

I hesitate to note this. Because the legislature has a record of prohibiting local control when it suits — on the adoption of local gun ordinances, on LGBT civil rights and others.

But good for Mayor Smith.

Can I get a second from Little Rock, where the last thing we need is looser enforcement of gun law?

Meanwhile, gun safety groups are urging Governor Hutcninson to veto the two bills passed yesterday.

The Arkansas chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, both part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots networks, released the following statement calling on Governor Hutchinson to veto dangerous nullification bills after lawmakers in the Arkansas House passed SB59 and SB298.


The nullification bills, widely opposed by law enforcement officials, would prevent local officials from keeping Arkansans safe by helping to enforce federal gun laws, and subject them to criminal penalties if they do so.

“Once again, our lawmakers have proven that their claims to support public safety are meaningless,” said Amy Gillespie, a volunteer with the Arkansas chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Their blatant hypocrisy is only matched by their gun extremism. Governor Hutchinson should stand up for what’s right and veto these nullification bills.”

 Mayor Kevin Smith, of Helena-West Helena, said today that his city will
defy any new State law preventing local law enforcement from cooperating with Federal law enforcement agencies when enforcing Federal gun crime laws.

SB 298, by State Senator Gary Stubblefield and Senator Brandt Smith, would potentially expose local law enforcement officers to a $500 fine if charged with violating the proposed law, which some argue would protect Second Amendment right to bear arms, and others say would hinder violent crime prevention.


“My NRA voting record, as a state senator years ago, was a triple A rating — the best you could get at the time,” said Smith. ”I understand both the politics and the importance of being vigilant regarding gun rights. But this is going way too far. I am not sure where we would be as a city without the partnerships, we have with our US Attorney, the FBI, ATF, and DEA, but I do know it would be much worse than it is already.


Now my legislature is saying “we shall take that away from you Mayor,” and that is just unbelievable to me.


“Regardless of the intentions, this law would radically work against the local law enforcement efforts we have established with Federal law enforcement agencies and would even be punitive against our local law enforcement officers. It exposes our citizens to even more gun violence, targets our police who are already under fire, both literally and figuratively, and is almost certainly a violation of the US Constitution,
which we are sworn to uphold.”


Smith served as a state senator for ten years, before being term limited in 2003, representing nine rural counties in Southeast Arkansas. He returned to local politics in 2018 and was elected mayor. Senate Bill 298 has been approved by both houses and is on the Governor’s desk for his signature or veto. The Governor has expressed concerns about the bill.


“Last year, HWH Police Officer Travis Wallace lost his life in a gun battle with someone he was trying to apprehend. That person was wanted in connection with another gun shooting from a week earlier,” said Smith. “His death was the first officer lost here in the line of duty in over 20 years. I am grateful the legislature recently honored his sacrifice. But, if this bill becomes law, it should be seen as an affront to police officers all over our state, and to the memory of Officer Wallace,” Smith added. “Surely the
legislature will reconsider the wisdom of taking an action that targets our own police officers, will increase gun violence in our neighborhoods, and cost the taxpayers tens of thousands to defend in courts.”


In 2020, the City of Helena-West Helena saw a 14% decrease in violent crime in a year when most places saw a dramatic increase, according to crime statistics from the RPS Crime Reporting System (RPS) that provides data for annual FBI Statistics. The city reported collecting over 200 guns from crimes in 2020, and cooperated with the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) on building a new ATF standardized evidence locker and identifying over 1000 guns confiscated in the community.


Smith said a large part of the credit for the 2020, 14% drop in violent crime in his city is shared with the US Attorney and Federal agencies, among others, who have conducted operations in coordination with our police chief and local law enforcement.


The US Attorney has recently taken up to seven local cases submitted to them by Chief Smith, most resulting in Federal indictments.

“In the Spring of 2019, at my invitation, US Attorney Cody Hiland, and Colonel Bryant of the State Police, coordinated with my Chief of Police, James Patrick Smith, other local law enforcement, and me to initiate ‘Operation Press Your Luck. ‘They launched a raid that resulted in 44 arrests,” said Smith. “We very much appreciate our partnership with Federal officials. We will continue to work with them regardless of what the State legislature has to say about it.” Smith added.

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