Party Like It’s 1829! Kentucky Senate Passes Ban On Enforcement Of Federal Gun Safety Laws

Nineteenth century nullificationist Senator John C. Calhoun

Yesterday, the Kentucky Senate overwhelmingly approved an unconstitutional bill forbidding the enforcement of new federal gun safety laws:

Any federal law, rule, regulation, or order created on or after January 1, 2013, including any amendment or other change made after January 1, 2013, to a preexisting federal law, rule, regulation, or order, shall be unenforceable within the borders of Kentucky if the law, rule, regulation, order, amendment, or other change attempts to:

(a) Ban or restrict ownership of a semi-automatic firearm, magazine, or other firearm accessory; or

(b) Require any firearm, magazine, or other firearm accessory to be registered in any manner.

Nullification, the Nineteenth Century idea that states can simply declare federal laws invalid, cannot be squared with the Constitution’s declaration that federal law “shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.” Yet the sponsor of this unconstitutional bill, state Sen. Jared Carpenter (R-KY), claims that he can make an end-run around the Constitution because the command that duly-enacted federal law are supreme over state law “applies only if Congress is acting in pursuit of its constitutionally authorized powers, which he said wouldn’t apply to stricter gun measures.”

Even if it were true, however, that bans on assault rifles and large capacity magazines and other proposed federal reforms are unconstitutional — and it is not true — that still does not mean that Kentucky has the unilateral power to declare something unconstitutional and therefore invalid within the state’s borders. Indeed, if Kentucky did have the power Carpenter claims, there would be nothing preventing it from declaring any law unconstitutional, regardless of what the Constitution has to say about it.

Giving states such a power would, in the words of James Madison, “speedily put an end to the Union itself.”