BOISE, Idaho (May 13, 2021) – This week, Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed a bill that expands on a previous law and further restricts state enforcement of federal gun control. The enactment of this law takes a second step toward neutering future federal gun control in Idaho.
The Senate Affairs Committee introduced Senate Bill 1205 (S1205) on April 14. The new law builds upon a law enacted in 2014 that prohibits state enforcement of acts passed after that date relating to personal firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition.
The old law prohibits officials, agents, or employees of the state or its political subdivisions from knowingly and willfully ordering any other official, agent, or employee of the state or a political subdivision of the state from enforcing a federal executive order, agency order, law, statute, rule or regulation if contrary to the provisions of section 11, Article I, of the Constitution of the state of Idaho.
S1205 expands the prohibition on enforcement, adding provisions prohibiting “all Idaho government entities” from “using any personnel, funds, or other resources to enforce, administer, or support the enforcement of any executive order, agency order, treaty, law, rule, or regulation of the United States government upon a firearm, firearm component, firearm accessory, or ammunition if contrary to the provisions of section 11, Article I of the Constitution of the state of Idaho.” [emphasis added]
The law also authorizes the state attorney general to enforce provisions of the law.
The Idaho Constitution provides strong protections for the right to keep and bear arms. It prohibits any laws that “impose licensure, registration or special taxation on the ownership or possession of firearms or ammunition. Nor shall any law permit the confiscation of firearms, except those actually used in the commission of a felony.”
The enactment of S1205 effectively bars the state from enforcing any federal gun laws in effect after Jan. 1 of this year that do the same.
How this plays out in practice remains to be seen. There is no mechanism in the bill to declare a specific federal act as “contrary” to the Idaho State Constitution. Although the types of laws prohibited by the state constitution are well-defined, law enforcement agents could still conceivably argue that “it’s not our job to decide if a federal act runs afoul of the state constitution.”
In a recently adopted law, Arizona sidestepped the issue of officer discretion by banning enforcement of federal laws that don’t exist in state statute, a less ambiguous standard.
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 Idaho 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.
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