Indianz.Com > News > Republican bill brings firearms debate to Indian Country
Indianz.Com Audio: Markup on H.R.1709 – Tribal Firearm Access Act
Republican bill brings firearms debate to Indian Country
Thursday, January 18, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A Republican-led bill to ensure tribal identification cards can be used to purchase firearms is moving forward in the 118th Congress.

After just a few minutes of consideration, the House Committee on the Judiciary approved H.R.1709, the Tribal Firearm Access Act, at a markup on Thursday morning. But no testimony was taken on the measure, which supporters described as a recognition of the right to bear arms in Indian Country.

“The Tribal Firearms Access Act is a simple and straightforward bill that allows members of federally recognized Indian tribes to use their valid identification documents issued by tribal governments to obtain a firearm from a federally licensed dealer,” said Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-Wyoming), a new member of Congress who also serves as chair of the House Subcommittee on Indian and Insular Affairs, the legislative panel with jurisdiction over Indian Country legislation.

House Committee on the Judiciary: Markup of H.R. 5736, H.R. 1508, H.R. 1709, H.R. 5585, H.R. 6976, H.R. 6678, H.R. 6679 – January 18, 2024

Despite the lack of a public hearing on H.R.1709, the bill has drawn support in Indian Country. President Tony Reider of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe, headquartered in South Dakota, said tribal government documents should be accepted as valid in the same manner as state and even foreign identification cards.

“The right to bear arms is constitutionally vested, and important to the day-to-day lives of Native Americans,” Reider said when Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-South Dakota) introduced the bill in March 2023.

Johnson, who is South Dakota’s sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives, first introduced the Tribal Firearms Access Act in the 117th Congress, when Democrats were in control of the chamber. His bill never advanced during the prior legislative session.

But with Republicans now in charge of the House, Johnson’s bill has gained new attention by a party eager to show its support for firearms and for the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, a major plank in the GOP’s platform. And the addition of Rep. Mary Peltola (D-Alaska), who is the first Alaska Native in Congress, as a co-sponsor has enabled supporters to characterize H.R.1709 as bipartisan.

“In Alaska, firearms are an essential tool for subsistence and self-defense alike,” Peltola, who is the first Democrat elected to her state’s at-large congressional district in 50 years, said when the bill was introduced.

“Tribal identification cards are already valid for a variety of uses, including boarding planes and accessing federal buildings and banks across the nation,” Peltola added. “This bill would extend this parity to include the Second Amendment rights of tribal members.”

During the markup on Thursday, the only Democrat who spoke about the Tribal Firearms Access Act was Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-New York), the ranking member of the House Committee on the Judiciary. He described the bill as “reasonable” and said he would work with Republicans to ensure that tribal government documents are recognized in federal law in as many areas as possible.

“It is our hope that we can reach an agreement that includes tribal IDs, tribal governments, and Native Americans in a more expansive way than just allowing tribal IDs for gun purchases,” Nadler said. “Such an agreement would serve to correct the broader injustice of failing to include tribal governments in more provisions of the law and would prevent tribes from having to seek recognition of one law or one right at a time.”

During the session, Hageman introduced a substitute version of H.R.1209. She said the replacement clarifies that a tribal identification card must contain a photo of the carrier in order for it to be accepted as valid for the purchase of a firearm.

“This amendment in the nature of a substitute makes a small but important change,” Hageman said. “It makes it clear that the tribal identification must have a photograph of the individual.”

The committee then accepted the amendment by a voice vote and approved H.R.1209 by a voice vote. No lawmakers expressed opposition during either vote.

The Tribal Firearms Access Act can now be considered for passage by the full U.S. House of Representatives. Since the start of the 118th Congress in January 2023, Republican leaders have placed a priority on Second Amendment legislation amid ongoing disruption and disagreement within their party in the chamber.

When Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) was elected as Speaker of the House last October following a Republican revolt, one gun violence prevention organization described him as an “extremist who has put the will of the gun lobby ahead of the safety of Americans.”

“By choosing Johnson as Speaker, the Republican party has made it clear that it has no interest in addressing public safety,” said Peter Ambler of the GIFFORDS organization founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Arizona), who was a victim of gun violence in her Congressional district in Arizona in 2011.

The U.S. Senate version of the Tribal Firearms Access Act is S.909. The bill was introduced by Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma), who is the first tribal citizen to serve in the chamber in nearly two decades.

“Tribal citizens, and all law-abiding Americans, have a fundamental right to keep and bear arms,” said Mullin, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. “For too long, a lapse in existing law has prohibited tribal members from using their tribal government-issued ID to lawfully purchase firearms. Our commonsense legislation corrects this unconstitutional infringement.”

U.S. Capitol
The U.S. Capitol houses the legislative branch of the federal government. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The Senate remains in control of Democrats, who have not scheduled a hearing on Mullin’s version of Tribal Firearms Access Act. The bill currently has seven co-sponsors — all Republicans.

“Under current federal law, tribal members are unable to use their tribal identification documents, which often is their only form of identification, to purchase a firearm,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-South Dakota). “The Tribal Firearm Access Act fixes this problem, allowing tribal members to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”

“As South Dakota’s member of the Indian Affairs Committee, I’m proud to introduce this common sense legislation,” said Rounds, who serves on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs along with Mullin.

As of the posting of this story on Thursday afternoon, the House Committee on the Judiciary’s markup was ongoing. Consideration of H.R. 1709 occurred at the start of the session.

House Committee on the Judiciary Notice
Markup of H.R. 5736, H.R. 1508, H.R. 1709, H.R. 5585, H.R. 6976, H.R. 6678, H.R. 6679 (January 18, 2024)