Virginia bill would ban enforcement of federal gun control measures

If passed into law, the Virginia 2nd Amendment Preservation Act would render new federal gun restrictions toothless within the state. Photo: Virginia state flag

RICHMOND, Va., December 10, 2013 — Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall introduced legislation this month to ban his state from enforcing any new federal gun laws, executive orders, or regulations “issued on or after December 1, 2013.”

“The federal government doesn’t have the manpower to enforce all its laws and regulations,” said Mike Maharrey, national communications director for the Tenth Amendment Center. “Our research has shown that most federal enforcement actions are done in partnership with state and local law enforcement. Marshall’s legislation would render any new federal gun control measures toothless in Virginia.”

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Dubbed the 2nd Amendment Preservation Act, the legislation is part of a growing effort to push back against federal gun control measures on a state level. Similar laws were passed in 2013 by Alaska and Kansas. The Missouri legislature came one vote shy of overriding a veto by Governor Jay Nixon in 2013, but a new bill will be introduced in early 2014 as well.

The legislation is based on the long-standing principle of the “anti-commandeering” doctrine. Upheld regularly by the Supreme Court, it holds that states cannot be forced to carry out federal acts, laws, regulatory programs, and the like.

The doctrine was a prominent feature of the 2012 Sebelius case, where the court held that states could not be forced to expand their Medicaid programs, even under the threat of losing federal funding. It was also part of the 1997 Printz case. There, the court held that a state could not be compelled to enforce the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act on behalf of the federal government.

“[T]he Court’s jurisprudence makes clear that the Federal Government may not compel the States to enact or administer a federal regulatory program,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in the 1997 opinion.

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Supporters say that state refusal to enforce federal acts is an effective strategy to stop them. James Madison, writing in Federalist #46, said that a number of states doing so in unison would create difficulties the federal government “would be hardly willing to encounter.”

And, in an appearance on the Fox Business channel earlier this year, Judge Andrew Napolitano suggested that a single state refusing to enforce federal gun control measures would make them “nearly impossible to enforce” within that state.

House Bill 43 (HB43) was pre-filed by Marshall on December 2, and will be taken up by the Virginia House once the state legislative session starts on January 8. 

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Michael Boldin

Michael Boldin is the founder and executive director of the Tenth Amendment Center, based in Los Angeles, CA.  Founded in 2006, the Center is a leading national resource for education and activism in support of the Constitution and liberty.


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