It seems that a lot more states are writing legislation that challenges the authority and supremacy of federal laws. While some states question the federal government’s right to legislate on what they view as state issues, several states have already proposed legislation which contradict federal laws. While most never make it to becoming law, there’s a bill in Wyoming that may make it.
The bill in Wyoming doesn’t directly contradict any federal law, it does make enforcement of federal laws problematic. It directs public servants, among others to outright ignore and punish federal workers who seek to enforce the law. In particular, the bill addresses changes at the federal level regarding weapons and accessories. The bill has been introduced by State Representative Kendell Kroeker.
Much like the demeanor of many who live in Wyoming, it’s simple and straightforward. The Firearm Protection Act states that
“… any federal law which attempts to ban a semi-automatic firearm or to limit the size of a magazine of a firearm or other limitation on firearms in this state shall be unenforceable in Wyoming…No public servant… or dealer selling any firearm in this state shall enforce or attempt to enforce any act, law, statute, rule or regulation of the United States government relating to a personal firearm, firearm accessory or ammunition that is owned or manufactured commercially or privately in Wyoming and that remains exclusively within the borders of Wyoming.”
The penalty for the federal agent would be no less than one year and one day in jail, a fine up to $5000, or both. The bill goes on to ascribe how the state’s attorney general may defend a Wyoming citizen who is prosecuted by the federal government for offenses to federal gun laws.
What’s not written in the bill is the real reason behind it. It’s somewhat of a preemptive strike against federal changes to what types of weapons and accessories someone may lawfully possess. Many of Koeker’s constituents have communicated their fear that they may have their guns taken away, which is something that fervent gun advocates mention any time a discussion about gun control comes to the fore. This comes as the Vice President Joe Biden heads up a task force to deal with the issue. The purpose is meant to prevent the application of any eventual Congressional action. It’s meant to stop federal application of the state level.
While it’s clear that this law, even if it passes, it would more than likely be struck down as violating the U.S. Constitution. It violates the second clause of the sixth Amendment: the supremacy clause. Simply put, it states that federal law is the supreme law of the land regardless of laws at lower levels that might otherwise contradict it. So is Koeker trying to please his constituents, knowing that it will be struck down? The answer might be, he does not believe that it violates the U.S. Constitution. In a statement to the San Francisco Gate, Koeker asserts
We’re a sovereign state with our own constitutional form of government. We’ve got a right to make our laws, and if the federal government is going to try to enforce unconstitutional laws on our people and take away the rights of Wyoming citizens, then we as a state are going to step up and make that a crime.
It seems the bill’s author, and its sponsors see the application of federal law differently. They refer to the 10th and 2nd Amendments to back up their claim of its legitimacy. We’ve heard many of the arguments for the application of the 2nd Amendment, but not much on the 10th Amendment. The 10th Amendment states that those powers which are not laid out by the federal government are given to the states. An example of the real life application is the age at which someone can get a driver’s license. While it may seem apparent that federal laws about what types of gun someone may have don’t apply to the 10th amendment, advocates cite the concept of federalism.
They believe that there are some issues that only states can determine, and that no matter what laws Congress passes or how the U.S. Supreme Court rules, they simply can’t and don’t apply. The fact is, there’s little in case law to help define the whether the sixth or tenth amendment applies in this type of case. However, courts have mostly sided with the supremacy clause. All the legal arguments aside, it makes sense in most cases to use the supremacy clause. If not, our country might look more like the early days of our country’s history when the states had autonomy over most laws, and the federal government had very little. The result was a mess of laws that contradicted each other. There was no unity for something as basic as a universal coinage or a central bank.
So, while most readers might completely dismiss this bill as never passing, or at least not surviving a test in the U.S. Supreme Court, it is worth consideration. Practicality tells us that it should, but the fact is states have been pushing for more and more autonomy for at least the last twenty years, especially in the case of second Amendment rights. They have been doing it for long enough, and without anyone taking notice that they have been gaining ground. Our democracy is a fluid one. It may appear to be a small change in a state with a small population, but that’s how change is made – one small step at a time. Our responsibility lays in being an active voice among many to make sure the laws work for all, and not just a few.