A prefiled bill sponsored by three Baton Rouge area lawmakers would make it illegal for federal authorities to enforce any future ban on semiautomatic firearms. The Louisiana Preservation of Individual Gun Rights of Citizens Act would not only declare any “federal law, rule, regulation or executive order” that bans or restricts the ownership of a semiautomatic firearm, magazine, accessory to be unenforceable in Louisiana, it would impose fines or jail sentences on federal agents or employees who sought to enforce such a law. This, of course, assumes that a federal ban on semiautomatic weapons will be enacted by Congress.
If the proposed Louisiana law comes to pass, it wouldn’t be the first time a state attempted to nullify a federal law. In 1808, a number of New England states threatened to nullify a federal embargo on products for England and France. Before the Civil War brought an end to slavery, many Northern states sought to block the enforcement of the pro-slavery Fugitive Slave Acts. More recently, many Southern states in the 1950s declared the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education to be unconstitutional in order to preserve racial segregation in their schools.
In every instance, however, nullification has been roundly rejected. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution establishes federal law as “the supreme law of the land.” Furthermore, the Constitution vests the federal judiciary, and ultimately the Supreme Court, with the power to declare laws unconstitutional. The court has specifically rejected nullification attempts a number of times, as recently as 1958.
Supporters of nullification efforts often wave the “states’ rights” flag. The framers, however, never intended that the states would have the power to reject or nullify federal laws that they believe are unconstitutional. As James Madison wrote in 1830, such a power would “speedily put an end to the Union itself.”
While the proposed Louisiana Preservation of Individual Gun Rights of Citizens Act may not bring “an end to the Union itself,” it is nevertheless a misguided attempt by some lawmakers to voice their opposition to federal gun-control measures. In the name of protecting the constitutional rights of Louisianans, our legislators would violate the Constitution themselves.
Louisiana law already provides vast protection to gun owners. The recent amendment to the Louisiana Constitution guarantees that any future regulation would be subject to strict judicial scrutiny. In the upcoming session, Louisiana lawmakers should focus on encouraging business growth, balancing the budget, and improving our state’s secondary and higher education systems. They should not waste their time, nor ours, debating a plainly unconstitutional measure like the Louisiana Preservation of Individual Gun Rights of Citizens Act.