HARRISBURG, Pa. (May 18, 2021) – A bill introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate would prohibit state and local enforcement of some future federal gun control. Passage into law would represent a step toward stopping certain future federal acts that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms within the state.
Sen. Doug Mastriano introduced Senate Bill 624 (SB624) on May 3, and the bill has garnered 13 cosponsors since. The legislation would ban any official, agent, or employee of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or its political subdivisions from enforcing a federal executive order, agency order, statute, law, rule, or regulation intended to restrict possession, transfer or use of a firearm, magazine, firearm accessory, or ammunition enacted after December 31, 2020.
The bill would also prohibit state and local agencies from taking federal funds for actions that would violate the law.
“A Federal action created or taking effect after December 31, 2020, shall be unenforceable within this Commonwealth if the Federal action attempts to register, restrict or ban the ownership or purchase of a firearm, magazine of a firearm, firearm accessory or ammunition, or to reclassify the firearm, accessory or magazine ex post facto where the result is to prohibit or restrict continued ownership or common use. An attempt by the Federal government to create within this Commonwealth a registry regarding a firearm, component or accessory, ammunition or magazine shall be prohibited.”
SB624 also creates a cause of action in civil court to sue a state actor who violates the law without qualified immunity. State actors found guilty would be subject to damages, termination of employment, a bar from future state employment for at least 10 years, and a bar from contracting with any state department or agency.
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.”
The state of Pennsylvania 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”
No determination of constitutionality is necessary to invoke the anti-commandeering doctrine. State and local governments can refuse to enforce federal laws or implement federal programs whether they are constitutional or not.
SB624 was referred to the Senate State Government Committee where it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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