State Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, left, confers with Rep. Craig Johnson, during floor debate Wednesday about a bill prohibiting state and local governments from imposing firearms restrictions during disaster declarations. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

State Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, left, confers with Rep. Craig Johnson, during floor debate Wednesday about a bill prohibiting state and local governments from imposing firearms restrictions during disaster declarations. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Ban on gun limits during emergencies passes House

Supporters say it’s about hunting for food during crises, opponents call it reckless and dangerous

This story has been updated to correct a reference to a vote on a similar bill last year.

State Rep. Mike Cronk says it’s about being able to buy ammo so rural Alaskans can fill their freezers with meat the next time there’s an emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic. Skeptics say it’s an unwise move to loosen gun restrictions that puts the Second Amendment above the others.

When the arguments ended (at least for a day), the state House passed a bill Wednesday prohibiting state and municipal governments from imposing restrictions or closing firearms retailers during disaster declarations. Similar bills have passed in other states including North Dakota, West Virginia, Georgia and South Dakota.

Cronk, a Republican who represents Tok and Northway, sought during floor debate to make the issue about people needing such access merely so they have food in the Last Frontier.

“It was struggle to run around and find ammo for my friends so they could go moose hunting,” he said, referring to restrictions during the pandemic that shut down many businesses selling firearms in Anchorage and elsewhere in the state. “We all know how important putting meat in our freezer is.”

But legislators opposing the bill said it’s not so innocuous because it prohibits officials from taking reasonable measures to limit gun access during potentially dangerous situations. An emergency shelter, for instance, would need to have an existing ban on firearms before a disaster is declared, said Rep. Sara Hannan, a Juneau Democrat.

“Under this bill they could not now put into place restrictions on your possession of guns even if there was violence or threats or conflicts, which are not unusual during times of crisis,” she said.

Such possibilities reflect numerous “drafting problems” in the bill, said Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat. He said it’s also notable supporters of the bill aren’t seeking the same protections for, say, organizations affected by the First Amendment such as magazines.

“What we do is take the Second Amendment and put it atop a pedestal as if it’s the only thing,” he said.

Rep. Kevin McCabe, a Big Lake Republican, rejected the argument firearms retailers are getting more protection than other businesses under the bill.

“This bill does not grant mayors or city officials any further power to shut down stores than they already have,” he said. “All this bill says is that if you leave other stores open you must leave guns stores open.”

House Bill 26, sponsored by House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, passed by a 26-12 vote with five members of the minority caucus siding with the Republican-led majority. Hannan and Juneau Democratic Rep. Andi Story voted against the bill.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where it unlikely to be a priority for the majority caucus of nine Democrats and eight Republicans since major issues like next year’s state budget, how the Permanent Fund dividend will be calculated and an increase in education spending are still pending with two weeks left in the session. A version of the bill introduced in the Senate last session narrowly failed to pass a House vote on the final day.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, speaks in opposition Wednesday to a bill prohibiting limits on firearms during emergencies, saying it could put people in shelters and the facilities at risk. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, speaks in opposition Wednesday to a bill prohibiting limits on firearms during emergencies, saying it could put people in shelters and the facilities at risk. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

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