Nineteenth Century nullificationist Senator John C. Calhoun
Earlier this week, the Alabama senate passed a bill that purports to nullify any action the federal government takes regarding firearms
. The bill provides that “[a]ll federal acts, laws, orders, rules, or regulations regarding firearms are a violation of the Second Amendment,” and that such acts “shall not be recognized by this state, are specifically rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state
.” Last month, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed a similar bill into law in his state
As ThinkProgress has previously explained, these bills are unconstitutional and have virtually no chance of being upheld by the courts. The Constitution provides that duly enacted federal laws “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.” Indeed, if states had the unilateral authority to decide which federal laws are or are not constitutional, as nullification’s proponents claim, it would undermine America’s very ability to exist as a single nation. As James Madison warned, nullification would “speedily put an end to the Union itself.”
Yet, while these nullification bills are doomed to fail, they are likely to inflict a profound human cost if signed into law. If Alabama’s governor signs this bill, the lawmakers who supported it will go home, pat themselves on the back for finding a new way to stick it to Obama and liberals, maybe collect some campaign donations from the NRA and its leadership, and then promptly move on to something else. Meanwhile, an innocent, largely law abiding citizen will read in the newspaper that federal gun laws no longer exist in Alabama, and could decide based on that fact to commit a federal gun crime. The law enforcement officials who arrest that citizen, the prosecutors who try him and the judge who ultimately sentences him will care little that Alabama passed an unconstitutional nullification bill — they will just do their job of enforcing the still-valid federal law.
Americans have a right to know what the law is, and they should not be sent mixed messages by the people they elect to serve them. In this case, their decision to play political games with the Constitution could lead someone with no intention of violating the law to commit a federal crime and bear the consequences of that action. That is far to high a price to pay in order to score some rhetorical points against supporters of gun laws.