HARRISBURG, Pa. (June 24, 2019) – A “firearm freedom” bill filed for the 2019 legislative session would exempt certain firearms, firearm accessories, and ammunition in the state of Pennsylvania from federal gun control laws. The bill would take an important step forward in restating resistance to unconstitutional federal firearm regulations.
Rep. Matthew Gabler (R-DuBois) and 31 cosponsors introduced House Bill 1553 (HB1553) on June 3. Under the proposed law, any gun, a gun accessory or ammo manufactured commercially or privately within the state that remains within the state would not subject to federal gun control laws, including registration.
The proposed law does not include any enforcement mechanism.
The bill cites not only the Second Amendment’s prohibition on any kind of federal firearm regulation, but it argues that under the Tenth Amendment the feds have no authority to regulate commerce that occurs only within a state.
“Congress has not expressly preempted state regulation of intrastate commerce pertaining to the manufacture on an intrastate basis of firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition.”
Without any kind of enforcement mechanism, passage of the HB1553 would be largely symbolic, but it would make an emphatic statement affirming the federal government’s limited authority under the commerce clause and lay a foundation for further action in the future. If passed, the state should follow up by barring any state or local enforcement of federal firearms law based on the anti-commandeering doctrine.
HB1552 is similar to a Second Amendment Protection Act passed by the state of Kansas in 2013. That law legalized the manufacture and sale of firearms and firearm accessories without any federal licensing or restrictions – provided the firearm is not sold outside of Kansas. It also authorized the state attorney general to prosecute federal agents who attempt to enforce federal gun laws on protected firearms. However, that law was challenged in court after two men were arrested for the sale and purchase of a gun sound suppressor without the permission of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
In 2017, a federal judge sentenced Shane Cox and Jeremy Kettler under federal law – Cox for manufacturing and selling a silencer and other firearms without paying the federal license/tax and Kettler for possessing and using that silencer. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt refused to take action against the federal agents and refused to intervene in the federal court case despite the urging of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and many others.
Cox and Kettler argued that the policy violated their right to keep and bear arms and that they should have been shielded by the state law. Their appeal went all the way to SCOTUS, which declined to hear the case.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently turned down the opportunity to take up the case.
The simple reality is that no federal branch will protect the right to keep and bear arms. It is a task that is up to the states and local governments. However, it is not going to be resolved with a single law on the books. Long-term success will likely require a strategy akin to that utilized by marijuana advocates – continual civil disobedience by a large group of people and convictions that gradually wear down the resolve of federal agencies to prosecute citizens for victimless crimes.
HB1553 has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.