Editorial: Brownback, Kansas lawmakers owe gun buyers an apology

Lawrence Journal-World editorials

Yes, a trigger finger can be dangerous, but so too can those voting fingers that state legislators use to push the ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ button at the Statehouse. A pair of Kansas gun owners are finding that out the hard way.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ended any hope of Kansas residents Jeremy Kettler and Shane Cox having their convictions of federal gun laws overturned. Technically their crimes involved illegally manufacturing, selling and owning a firearm silencer.

In reality, their biggest crime was placing any trust in Kansas lawmakers.

In short, Cox, a Chanute store owner, sold Kettler, a disabled Army veteran, an unregistered silencer in 2014. The silencer carried a stamp of “Made in Kansas,” but more importantly it came with a promise. If the silencer was never taken out of the state, federal officials couldn’t prosecute the owner of the silencer, even though it didn’t comply with federal gun laws.

The promise was based off a state law passed a year earlier that made it a crime for federal officials to file gun charges related to people owning firearms made, sold and kept in Kansas. It even gave the state the ability to arrest federal agents who tried to arrest or prosecute a Kansas resident on such a charge.

Perhaps then-Gov. Sam Brownback had a large army that swore only an oath to him that he kept quartered in the basement of Cedar Crest. You had better have one, if you intend to arrest FBI agents for doing their job.

Brownback and his legislative supporters, of course, had no such army nor much common sense when it came to this gun law. The Obama administration promptly warned the state that the law was unconstitutional and would do nothing to stop people from being prosecuted for owning illegal firearms.

But you lost Brownback at the word “Obama.” What did that guy know? Come to find out, the Supreme Court — controlled by conservatives — thought so little of the Kansas law that it allowed the conviction last week to be upheld without even issuing a comment. Not one single expression of support for it.

It is worth noting that the law remains on Kansas’ books. Lawmakers should correct that early in the next legislative session.

It all is too little too late for Cox and Kettler. They both have criminal records after they took Brownback and state legislators at face value.

Ian Clark, an attorney for Kettler, told The Associated Press that the Legislature and Brownback basically “sold this kid down the river with a law they knew full well was not going to be able to thwart the federal government. That’s the sadness of all this — they basically made Jeremy and Shane their guinea pigs.”

Or, perhaps another way to say it is that Cox and Kettler got hoodwinked by zealots. Brownback and his legislative supporters weren’t acting as lawmakers when they approved that bill. They were simply zealots who wanted a particular outcome because it fit their philosophy. They confused the act of lawmaking with laboratory work. Pass a bill. See what happens. Just make sure you are not holding the beaker when it explodes. It is interesting, isn’t it, that Gov. Brownback didn’t sign up to have Serial Number No. 1 of a Kansas-made silencer. He must have not been in the testing mood.

He and his supporters also must not be in the apology mood. Yes, Cox and Kettler both could have been more responsible with some of their decisions. But do any Kansas lawmakers feel guilty about using their official positions to lead people on? Apparently not, based on the lack of apologies for such a sophomoric law that has damaged two men’s lives.

On the apology front, it has been crickets. No silencer needed.


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