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Will Missouri Nullify Federal Gun Laws?

Missouri State Representative Cynthia Davis has introduced the “Firearms Freedom Act” (HB1230) – prefiled for the 2010 legislative session. The bill “Asserts the right of the State of Missouri to regulate the intrastate use and acquisition of certain firearms pursuant to the reserved powers of the state over intrastate commerce and the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

While the bill’s title focuses solely federal gun regulations, it has far more to do with the 10th Amendment’s mandate that powers not delegated to the federal government are “reserved to the states, respectively, or to the people.” It states:

“Amendment II of the Constitution of the United States reserves to the people the right to keep and bear arms as that right was understood at the time that Missouri was admitted to statehood, and the guarantee of the right is a matter of contract between the state and people of Missouri and the United States as of the time that the compact with the United States was agreed upon and adopted by Missouri and the United States”

Some supporters of the legislation say that a successful application of such a state-law would set a strong precedent and open the door for states to take their own positions on a wide range of activities that they see as not being authorized to the Federal Government by the Constitution.

Firearms Freedom Acts have already passed in both Montana and Tennessee, and have been introduced in a number of other states around the country. (Click here to see the full list)

There’s been no lack of controversy surrounding these laws, either. The Tenth Amendment Center recently reported on the ATF’s position that such laws don’t matter:

The Federal Government, by way of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms expressed its own view of the Tenth Amendment this week when it issued an open letter to ‘all Tennessee Federal Firearms Licensees’ in which it denounced the opinion of Beavers and the Tennessee legislature. ATF assistant director Carson W. Carroll wrote that ‘Federal law supersedes the Act’, and thus the ATF considers it meaningless.

Constitutional historian Kevin R.C. Gutzman sees this as something far removed from the founders’ vision of constitutional government:

“Their view is that the states exist for the administrative convenience of the Federal Government, and so of course any conflict between state and federal policy must be resolved in favor of the latter.”

“This is another way of saying that the Tenth Amendment is not binding on the Federal Government. Of course, that amounts to saying that federal officials have decided to ignore the Constitution when it doesn’t suit them.”

Advocates of these efforts say it doesn’t matter if the federal government disagrees, or even threatens states over funding, as they did recently with Oklahoma. Gary Marbut, author of the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, and founder of FirearmsFreedomAct.com took this position in a recent interview with the Tenth Amendment Center:

“We’re not depending on permission from federal judges to be able to effectuate our state-made guns bills. And, we’re working on other strategies to wrest essential and effective power from the federal government and put it where it belongs.“

The principle behind such legislation is nullification, which has a long history in the American tradition. When a state ‘nullifies’ a federal law, it is proclaiming that the law in question is void and inoperative, or ‘non-effective,’ within the boundaries of that state; or, in other words, not a law as far as the state is concerned.

All across the country, activists and state-legislators are pressing for similar legislation, to nullify specific federal laws within their states.

A proposed Constitutional Amendment to effectively ban national health care will go to a vote in Arizona in 2010. Thirteen states now have some form of medical marijuana laws – in direct contravention to federal laws which state that the plant is illegal in all circumstances. And, massive state nullification of the 2005 Real ID Act has rendered the law virtually null and void.

While some advocates concede that a federal court battle has a slim chance of success, they point to the successful nullification of the Real ID Act as a blueprint to resist various federal laws that they see as outside the scope of the Constitution.

Some say that each successful state-level resistance to federal programs will only embolden others to try the same – resulting in an eventual shift of power from the federal government to the States and the People themselves.

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