HONOLULU, January 18, 2013 – Even as President Obama’s recent gun control executive actions have sent firearms owners and enthusiasts reeling into a panic over what’s next, more surprises may be on the way from the 113th Congress. With the Sandy Hook incident perceived by many in Washington D.C. as a legislative mandate, gun owners should be prepared for the new Congress to make bold strides in assisting President Obama’s agenda and aggressively pushing for greater restrictions on private firearms in general.
It’s clear that the federal government now has gold fever for gun control – but will it nullify the Second Amendment this year with a wave of anti-gun regulations and taxes? What does all this mean for the future of responsible private citizens? The Tenth Amendment Center’s Michael Maharrey provides his perspective on what’s next and how readers should interpret the new political open season on gun ownership.
Danny de Gracia: President Obama made quite a stir this week when he announced his executive actions concerning gun control. Are we parsing words here? Is there a difference between executive “actions” and executive “orders“? What’s the TAC’s take on this?
Michael Maharrey: I was talking to someone about this the other day and to be honest with you, there is some authority for the president to direct executive agencies within the scope of previously passed laws. So if the Congress passes a law that creates some agency, the president can direct the agency to focus on certain things within the scope of the authority that Congress has given them. There’s two caveats to that, though.
The first thing that you have to do is look at the constitutionality of the underlying act. Is that underlying act constitutional in the first place? If not, then its void on its face, and therefore any executive action taken under that unconstitutional act would also be void. The second thing is whether or not the president is acting within the scope of the law passed or is he expanding on it or legislating on his own? So those are two key things that you would have to look at.
In my brief review of the executive actions, I didn’t see a whole lot in there that frankly I found very alarming. The thing that is more alarming is the push that we’re going to see in Congress in the upcoming weeks for an assault weapons ban, for banning certain capacity magazines, and these type of things which are direct infringement on the Second Amendment and are clearly unconstitutional.
DDG: Sure. Well, this is obviously a very controversial topic, especially when it comes to gun control. What do you think in light of that push that we’re going to see in Congress toward banning assault weapons and other types of firearms … what do you think that the proper actions that state legislatures and governors should be taking right now?
I mention that because we have some people who basically advocate that the people and the states essentially exist at the whim of the federal government and whatever Washington wants to do, pretty much the people have to suck in and say “Yes sir!” … that’s basically the mindset behind the kind of leadership we have in D.C. these days. It’s basically, “Be bold, and if it’s unconstitutional, do it anyway and let someone rule it down later!” What do you think should be happening right now at the state level?
Maharrey: Well, and I’ll take that even a step further. I think many of the people in the federal government and many supporters of the federal government actually believe that if Congress passes a law or if the president makes an action, it’s constitutional regardless. I mean, there’s almost this mentality that federal government is sovereign like some kind of king in a royal system, and obviously that’s not true. Anybody that understands history knows that the people of the states had already created independent sovereign political societies and they delegated certain powers to a new general government and formed the Union for a specific purpose. They gave the federal government enumerated powers and the federal government is not to go beyond those powers.
So when people say that the federal government can do whatever it wants to and the states are powerless and the people are powerless, that’s bad and it turns the system the Founders created on its head. In reality, the federal government is beholden to the states.
The federal government is an agent of the people of the states. So therefore when the federal government oversteps its reach, it’s our very strong position that it’s not only the right of the states but it is the duty of the state legislatures to step in and interpose and stop that evil action. Some people cringe when I say “evil” but taking power that does not rightly belong to you is stealing and we call stealing evil.
So this clearly a case of evil action when the federal government usurps, so in a nutshell the states should absolutely step in and interpose and do whatever it takes to make sure any federal action that would abridge the people and their states the right to keep and bear arms should be stopped at the state level.
DDG: You know the question that I have is if crime is a problem, why do we have to have a federal solution for that? You know if it’s crime or if it’s guns you’d think that’s something that could be handled locally. Obviously this is going to cost a lot to enforce and Washington is already strapped for cash, so what do you think is behind this mindset that the federal government has to be in charge of everything?
Maharrey: I think it’s because it’s harder. You know people have a notion of the way they want the world to be. They have certain policy preferences, they have agendas they want to pursue, and we all do. We all have certain visions. The problem is that people recognize that it’s easier to have one big, central authority and just have to go and get one law passed as opposed to working through all fifty states to get all those states to fall in line with what you want to happen.
A little bit of it I think is this desire for control that seems to be innate in human beings, to control what everybody does and even it doesn’t matter. You take an issue like medical marijuana for example. What difference does it make to me living here in Kentucky what California with medical marijuana? Not a bit. And I guarantee you I can find thousands of people in this state who would just flip out at the notion of California having legalized marijuana. Honestly I don’t think that way so it’s hard for me to understand why other people do but it’s certainly prevalent in society.
What we need is to decentralize the system and you’re exactly right, each area has different problems, you know you go to Eastern Kentucky and there’s a huge problem with prescription medications. In other areas there’s a huge problem with cocaine , some places there’s a huge problem with gun violence – which, incidentally, happens in a lot of places with gun control – but each area is supposed to deal with its own problems on a local level where people understand the dynamics, not from a centralized, all-powerful, all-knowing big government. That’s not what the Founders intended at all, they intended for a decentralized system, with the states maintaining most powers, especially with the police powers.
This was understood for more than 150 years and its recent history that we’ve gotten away from, and I think it’s to our detriment.
DDG: Well that’s a great point that you make. There’s been a serious paradigm shift in recent years. Over the last century the federal government has always been “big” but it’s been growing and growing in its scope and power especially in the last fifteen years. It seems like there’s basically been an acceleration going on in which every year there’s some massive new power they want to assume. What’s behind this acceleration?
I don’t remember in the Eighties or the Nineties the Congress or the president putting out something that was just so insane every year that the states basically needed to (laughs) be in a position where they said, “Okay, we’re going to nullify this. We refuse to submit to this.” It was bad at times but it wasn’t that bad during past years. What’s behind this paradigm shift?
Maharrey: Well I think, to use an analogy, it’s almost a factor of physics. If you’ve ever played with a snowball, you start with a little bitty ice ball and we’ll call that the core. And at the core [of government] there is a desire for power. That’s the reality of politics and I think most people understand that. They want power, particularly when you get them in a political setting. So our Founders in their wisdom put a lot of fences and constraints around that to hold it in and keep it in check and keep it under the control of the people.
Well eventually that little snowball started to roll down the hill and little by little you saw little gateways open up for that snowball to go through. Well the bigger it gets, the faster it rolls, the faster it rolls, the power it has to overpower the fences that be in its way. And I think it’s really a process of time, it starts slow, it builds slowly and the more power that it accumulates in one spot the more powerful it becomes and the faster it moves.
I think we’re just seeing that acceleration as a natural consequence of what we’ve allowed over the past one hundred years or so. It started slow and now its rolling at such a speed that it’s unstoppable until somebody stands up and builds a giant wall and that’s what we’re trying to do at the Tenth Amendment Center. We’re trying to get the states into action to serve the purposes of a vertical check on power and to stop that snowball from rolling and obliterate it back to the size it should be.
DDG: Right. Well you know, that’s pretty amazing what we’ve already seen several states doing, Texas, Colorado, Kentucky, Virginia and others … they’ve really stood up in the last two years to various federal mandates and they’ve passed measures that restrict how federal agents can operate within their borders but why is it that some states are really aggressive and proactive about enforcing their Tenth Amendment rights but other states they just lay down and accept whatever D.C. wants to do?
You know for example I live in Hawaii and over here if there were some executive order or some new law from Congress that basically said, “Hey, you can’t wear a purple colored shirt anymore in public!” I’m pretty sure that my state would say “Yes sir!” and commit to that by passing some local law matching the federal mandate. Is there a way to get state legislators proactive in standing up for states’ rights? I mean even at the city council level home rule is a big issue too but it just seems there are some people who are really active about it and other states, they just … take it. What do you think we can do?
Maharrey: I think that first important key is to activate people at the grassroots level, because that’s where everything happens. You have to have people that are motivated, that are working, that are advocating a position. And you’re right, there are some states that just have a natural affinity to independence and independent thinking. You look at a state like Texas, that’s kind of rooted in their history. And so it’s much easier to get people to rise up under that banner, whereas other states it’s much more difficult because of the political dynamic.
In politics you always have the left/right paradigm, the Republicans versus the Democrats, so much gets played out on that ridiculous level instead of really focusing on principles. So I say for a state that is really struggling for its legislators to pay attention to important issues like state sovereignty is to find the right issue.
In every state there are going to be issues that are going to resonate with the politicians even though they may reject the idea of state sovereignty or nullification or interposition. There’s usually one issue that you can find that will grab attention and get people behind. In some states it’s the medical marijuana, that’s just something that’s attractive to people on the left.
In many, many states we’ve across the aisle cooperation between the left and right on the National Defense Authorization Act detention provisions. Nobody wants the federal government to have the power to kidnap them. That’s something that resonates particularly strongly with the left [which] has a strong history of standing up for civil liberties. So, you look at a state like Hawaii – maybe there’s an opportunity with the NDAA to educate people what it is.
You look at the history of Japanese internment during WWII, that should resonate with a lot of the population there in Hawaii. They probably have families which were subjected to that in the past. Find an issue and the principle to follow that because they recognize its important to stand up to the federal government in this area and then slowly but surely they begin to accept that maybe we should stand up to the federal government in all these other areas and be more decentralized and take more control over our own destiny.
DDG: Definitely. So in closing, is there anything you’d like to tell our readers in terms of what’s next?
Maharrey: I would say that I think that this next state legislative session which is beginning in many states and will soon begin in others is going to be a huge, huge, huge session for state sovereignty because of the abuse of the Second Amendment, the National Defense Authorization Act and the healthcare act. I’m pretty sure that you’re going to see some type of state level, nullification act in all fifty states before this session is over addressing one of these key issues.
Maharrey: So it’s important for people to pay attention to what’s going on in their state government and when they see these bills being introduced to begin to call their state legislators and encourage them to support these bills, whether it’s the Second Amendment, whether it’s protecting from indefinite detention or healthcare freedom.
I think that the people need to get behind these bills and the Tenth Amendment Center’s a great resource. We’ve just revamped our legislative tracking page and made it a lot easier to navigate it by issues, there’s maps will balloons that will actually pull up the bill language. So it’s going to be very important to get these things passed and to get the people behind them. People are used to calling their congressmen in Washington D.C. and getting a form letter back or basically being ignored. I think that people will find that if they focus their attention on their state legislators, they’re much more responsive to public pressure.
By that virtue, it’s much easier to influence them and get them to vote in a way the people want to. This is extremely important and the number one piece of advice I would give. Pay attention to what’s going on at the state level and actively lobby your state legislators to support the bills. And don’t just send e-mail, give them a call, and a week later, give them a call again and really make it obvious to them that you’re passionate about this.
Danny de Gracia is a political scientist who lives in Hawaii. For more interviews and to find out more about Danny, follow him on his official blog!
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