In the first dozen or so years after the United States came into being, state’s rights were important and had meaning. Not so much these days. They have mostly been eaten up by the Interstate Commerce Clause of the Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court decisions, which form precedents the courts will follow until changed by some new court decision, which can take decades.
What could have happened had the Senate bill to increase background checks and ban certain types of weapons was averted by its defeat in April. But, in April, Kansas passed a bill that made it a felony for any federal agent to enforce a law in Kansas relating to any gun manufactured in Kansas if it had not left the state. As an example, an agent of the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) could seize a banned weapon in Kansas, and would be committing a felony if the gun had been made in Kansas. Kansas police could arrest the federal agent under the Kansas law, and charge him with a felony. He could be jailed, tried, and imprisoned.
The conflict in the Federal and Kansas laws is deliberate. Gun owners feel strongly about their right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, and any infringement whatever by the federal government riles them up. In addition, state’s rights have been kicked around so much lately that many Kansans are sick and tired of federal interference. Conservatives in the Kansas legislature and Governor Brownback reflected this sentiment with this bill.
The conflict is mostly moot now, because the federal law wasn’t passed. The remaining gun legislation still pending has to do with outlawing “straw purchases” of guns to be taken into Mexico. That’s where an American citizen buys guns for Mexican gangs, acting as a purchase agent. I don’t believe anyone in Kansas would object to that.
We can still discuss the principle of a state law that forbids a federal agent from carrying out a legitimate federal law within that state. It’s a bad idea. There’s a very good analysis here: Kansas gun law under fire. One would think that a gun manufactured in Kansas that never leaves Kansas wouldn’t be subject to federal laws regulating Interstate Commerce, and would thereby be protected under the constitution. But law is tricky, that’s why we have lawyers. The argument that a manufacturer in Kansas would have an advantage in Kansas over a gun made by Smith and Wesson in Massachusetts or some other state is valid, and that’s the way interstate commerce is affected. The law is also a dumb idea because the US Attorney General has threatened to sue Kansas. He may not last long enough to do so, but his successor may, and Kansas taxpayers would be stuck with paying for it, and there’s no way Kansas can win, even in the Supreme Court.
The decline in state’s rights and the feds invasion of the Second Amendment are facts of life that make us mad but there’s little we can do. I really think Brownback and friends were registering a protest, knew they couldn’t win, and plan to back down if things ever go that far.