NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND — In January 2013, just one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Arizona State Senator Kelli Ward proposed a bill that would ban all federal, state or local government employees and federally licensed gun dealers in Arizona from enforcing any federal law or regulation relating to firearms or ammunition.
But when asked about the proposal on Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Ward, now running to replace Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), said she didn’t remember the proposal and was not in politics at that time, despite being elected to the state senate in November 2012.
“I would like you to clarify about my statements after Sandy Hook,” she said in an interview with ThinkProgress (despite her campaign’s initial refusal to talk to ThinkProgress, saying the interview was “not a good fit” because of the questions this reporter would ask).
“I’m not sure what you’re talking about, because I was not even in politics at that time,” Ward said.
But Ward was in politics at the time.
“Under the Smith/Ward plan, government employees, judges and even jurors would be barred from enforcing federal gun laws and if any federal officials tried to do so in the sovereign state of Arizona, they’d be guilty of a felony,” the Arizona Republic reported in 2013, according to a Nexis search.
Presented with articles about Ward’s proposal, her campaign’s communication director said they were confused about the question because they didn’t remember when the Sandy Hook tragedy took place, saying they thought at the the mass shooting at an elementary school happened in 2003, not 2012 when Ward was already in politics.
“I am very impassioned about Arizona states’ rights and the overreach that I feel that the federal government has put into many aspects of running our state,” Ward told her colleagues when she proposed the bill in 2013, according to Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services. “And firearms — personal firearms in particular — are just one of those ways that they’re reaching down into the state, especially after tragedies have happened.”
A Senate panel even passed the bill, as The Arizona Republic reported on January 31, 2013.
“Basically, it’s a statement,” she reportedly told the committee at the time. “I believe the federal government has taken liberties they are not entitled to take.”
In a later interview with the paper, she acknowledged that her bill could trigger costly litigation.
“I do think there’s a risk,” she told the Republic. “But I do think Arizona should assert its sovereignty.”
On Thursday, however, five years later, apparently confused about when the massacre that left 20 children and six adults dead had occurred, Ward said only that her stance on state gun laws was “just the Second Amendment.”
“I’m not sure what you’re referencing,” she said. “The Second Amendment is the ultimate gun law. If the federal gun laws that infringe on the Second Amendment or are unconstitutional that they should be struck down, either before they ever became laws or by the supreme court.”
Later, when her memory was refreshed, Ward said her bill was an effort to exercise one power state legislatures have to “nullify any fed unconstitutional laws that come their way.”
“State legislatures have a lot of power they don’t exercise,” she said in the interview. “That’s what this bill was about, the power that state legislators and legislatures have to look at federal laws that’s pushed to the states.”
In the interview at CPAC Thursday, Ward also spoke about what she sees as the importance of “continuously vetting” recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The program grants temporary relief from deportation as well as work permits to undocumented immigrants who enter the program as children, and its recipients have been left in limbo since Trump rescinded the program last fall, calling on Congress to find a solution for the immigrants protected under the bill.
“The population has to continue to be vetted,” she said. “If you signed up years ago, there could still be problems over time… The DACA population in particular needs to understand that if there’s a criminal element, if you’re a member of a gang, if you have been convicted of a crime, that that’s going to take your DACA status away.”
Additional reporting by Kira Lerner.