CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Feb. 27, 2020) – Today, the Wyoming House passed a bill that takes a step toward protecting the right to keep and bear arms from federal gun control.
A coalition of 13 Republicans introduced House Bill 118 (HB118) on Feb. 7. Titled the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” the legislation would ban any “public servant” of the state and its political subdivisions, from enforcing any future federal “acts, laws, executive orders, administrative orders, court orders, rules, or regulations statute or ordinance” that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms and which is being litigated by the Wyoming attorney general on behalf of the citizens of Wyoming.
In effect, should the federal government implement any new gun control measure, the law would trigger an immediate ban on the enforcement of those measures by the state of Wyoming.
The House Judiciary Committee approved the bill earlier this week by a vote of 7-2. Today, the full House passed it by a vote of 49-9.
The bill includes a detailed definition of actions that qualify as “infringement,” and that they “shall be objected to and litigated against by the Wyoming attorney general on behalf of the citizens of Wyoming.” This includes, but is not limited to:
- taxes and fees on firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition that would have a chilling effect on firearms ownership enacted after July 1, 2020;
- registration and tracking schemes applied to firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition that would have a chilling effect enacted after July 1, 2020;
- any act forbidding the possession, ownership, or use or transfer of a firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition by law-abiding citizens enacted after July 1, 2020;
- any act ordering the confiscation of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition from law-abiding citizens.
The federal government relies heavily on state cooperation to implement and enforce almost all of its laws, regulations and acts – including gun control. By simply withdrawing this necessary cooperation, states and localities can nullify many federal actions in effect. As noted by the National Governors’ Association during the partial government shutdown of 2013, “states are partners with the federal government on most federal programs.”
Based on James Madison’s advice for states and individuals in Federalist #46, a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union” represents an extremely effective method to bring down federal gun control measures because most enforcement actions rely on help, support and leadership from state and local governments.
Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano agreed. In a televised discussion on the issue, he noted that a single state taking this step would make federal gun laws “nearly impossible” to enforce.
“Partnerships don’t work too well when half the team quits,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “By withdrawing all resources and participation in federal gun control, states and even local governments can help bring these unconstitutional acts to their much-needed end.”
Some gun-rights supporters have argued that such a measure is “unnecessary” because it addresses a nonexistent problem with a divided Congress and an NRA-backed president. Trump’s bump stock ban obliterates this fallacy. Furthermore, the Trump administration actually ramped up enforcement of federal gun laws in 2017 and 2018.
The state of Wyoming can legally bar state agents from enforcing federal gun control. Refusal to cooperate with federal enforcement rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine.
Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program. The anti-commandeering doctrine is based primarily on five Supreme Court cases dating back to 1842. Printz v. U.S. serves as the cornerstone.
“We held in New York that Congress cannot compel the States to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Today we hold that Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the States’ officers directly. The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policy making is involved, and no case by case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty”
SMALL STEPS FORWARD, BUT MISSING THE BIGGER PICTURE
Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin said that while he supports the bill in principle, he sees the measure as taking a far more conservative approach than long-standing sanctuary laws elsewhere.
“The longstanding Oregon immigration sanctuary state law doesn’t ban enforcement only when there’s a lawsuit in progress, and it doesn’t limit the enforcement ban to only those laws passed after a specific date in the future,” he said. “The ban has been in effect since day one and never relied on some other action first. Wyoming should certainly move in this direction, and fast.”
First passed in 1987, and still in full effect today, the Oregon “Sanctuary State” law reads in part:
No law enforcement agency of the State of Oregon or of any political subdivision of the state shall use agency moneys, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship present in the United States in violation of federal immigration laws.
As introduced, provisions in HB118 took the same approach to banning enforcement of all federal gun control without first waiting for a lawsuit to start. However, due to intense law enforcement opposition, the committee stripped a number of provisions from the bill.
As written, HB118 would have prohibited state enforcement of all federal gun control. The committee also removed provisions that would have barred federal agents who enforce gun control in Wyoming from ever serving as law enforcement officers in the state. The amended bill also makes it likely the state will resume enforcement of a federal gun control measure if they lose in federal court.
Boldin noted that passage of HB118 into law could still represent a small but important step towards liberty.
“At some point, Wyoming is going to need to take a stand against all gun control going back to the National Firearms Act of 1934, because none of it is authorized by the Constitution,” he said. “This bill would be a positive step forward as it sets the foundation for the state to reject federal gun control, and Thomas Jefferson himself told us liberty must be gained by ‘inches.'”
Referenced here is a 1790 letter from Jefferson to the Rev. Charles Clay:
“The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, that we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get. It takes time to persuade men to do even what is for their own good.”
HB118 now heads to Senate, where it will first need to pass out of a committee before the full chamber has an opportunity to concur.
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