Nullifying gun laws

An old theory makes a strange comeback

The 21st century is the golden age of gun rights. All 50 states allow the carrying of concealed weapons. The once-toothless Second Amendment finally has real potency. Even after the Newtown, Conn., massacre, Congress rejected new restrictions on firearms. Monday's Washington Navy Yard shooting is not likely to change that.

For those who value this freedom and grasp the futility of most gun control measures, the future is bright. The democratic process has worked to advance good ideas and weed out bad ones. Judges have shown their openness to new evidence and cogent argument in interpreting the Constitution.

You might expect gun rights activists to feel a new appreciation for Congress and the federal courts. But no. The attitude of many is: We don't care about Congress and the federal courts because they have no authority over us.

In April, Kansas passed a law barring federal restrictions on guns made and kept in the state. This month, the governor of Missouri vetoed a law that would have invalidated federal gun laws and made it a crime to enforce them.

The idea of "nullification" is not new. It was endorsed by Thomas Jefferson and John C. Calhoun a couple of centuries ago. But it has unsavory connotations, having been a favorite of segregationists during the civil rights era.

The argument in favor of these measures is that the 10th Amendment reserves to the states or the people "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution." According to the Tenth Amendment Center, which promotes nullification, "The states, as parties to the compact that created the Constitution and the federal government, have the power to judge for themselves whether a law is constitutional or not."

This claim may appear to conflict with the clause of the Constitution that says federal statutes "shall be the supreme law of the land" — "anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding." Nullifiers say that provision applies only to laws that are constitutional. And the only constitutional laws, in their view, are those a state accepts.

It's a line of thought that earns points for audacity. But it blithely disregards the opinions of the framers who saw federal supremacy as the foundation of the Constitution — which was intended to curb the power of the states under the Articles of Confederation.

It contradicts two centuries of jurisprudence based on the final authority of the U.S. Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution. As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in an 1803 opinion, "It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department" — the courts — "to say what the law is." It ignores a minor matter known as the Civil War, which drastically altered the balance of power between the federal government and the states.

What has been established by history is that the states have the right to contest the exercise of power by those in Washington — but only within legitimate channels.

They can scream bloody murder against unwanted federal laws. They can refuse to let state and local police enforce them. They can decline federal funding that has strings attached. If the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution in an unwanted way, two-thirds of the states can call a convention to approve amendments, which can be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

What they can't do is pretend to be exempt from the national government. This point is not in dispute even among experts who see Washington as far too powerful. Robert Levy, Cato Institute chairman, who led the lawsuit that yielded the Supreme Court's 2008 decision establishing an individual right to own guns, writes that "states cannot impede federal enforcement of a federal law merely because the state deems it unconstitutional."

Georgetown University law professor Randy Barnett, who argued the unconstitutionality of Obamacare before the Supreme Court, shares that view. "Under the supremacy clause, states cannot override valid federal laws," he told me.

He proposes a constitutional "repeal amendment" allowing a majority of states representing a majority of the U.S. population to override federal laws and regulations — which would be superfluous if states could simply ignore them.

Today, the essential freedoms of gun owners are highly secure, protected by elected leaders as well as the judiciary. So it's hard to see why their purported champions feel impelled to radically upend our system of government. Better to take yes for an answer.

Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune's editorial board, blogs at chicagotribune.com/chapman.

schapman@tribune.com

Twitter @SteveChapman13

Carl Icahn News Coverage - Los Angeles Times
RSS feeds allow Web site content to be gathered via feed reader software. Click the subscribe link to obtain the feed URL for this page. The feed will update when new content appears on this page.

Carl Icahn

A collection of news and information related to Carl Icahn published by this site and its partners.

Top Carl Icahn Articles

Displaying items 12-22
  • Google, Lego bring bricks to the Web with Build With Chrome

    Google, Lego bring bricks to the Web with Build With Chrome
    Building a Lego creation is now as easy as opening your Web browser. Google and the Danish toy company have teamed up to create Build With Chrome, a website users can visit using the Chrome Web browser to build Lego models. The site can be accessed...
  • As Apple stock drops, Carl Icahn buys $500 million more in shares

    As Apple stock drops, Carl Icahn buys $500 million more in shares
    With Apple's stock falling more than 8% at one point on Tuesday, activist investor Carly Icahn swooped in and bought another $500 million worth of shares.  "Just bought $500 mln more $AAPL shares," Icahn tweeted. "My buying seems to be going neck-and-...
  • Yahoo fourth-quarter revenue declines, shares fall 4%

    Yahoo fourth-quarter revenue declines, shares fall 4%
    SAN FRANCISCO -- Yahoo's revenue declined for the fourth straight quarter, walloped by declining online display advertising sales. Shares fell nearly 4% to $36.77 in after-hours trading. Yahoo reported $1.2 billion in net revenue in the fourth...
  • Pressure builds for Apple to overhaul or expand product portfolio

    Pressure builds for Apple to overhaul or expand product portfolio
    Apple iTV? The iWatch? Bigger iPhones and iPads? Rumormongering about such mythical products is a regular spectator sport for many Apple watchers. But after the company said it could post a year-over-year decline in revenue this fiscal year for the...
  • Apple TV not just a hobby anymore, get its own section on Web store

    Apple TV not just a hobby anymore, get its own section on Web store
    Changes to the Apple Store website appear to indicate that the Cupertino tech giant is now placing more importance on Apple TV, a product Chief Executive Tim Cook has referred to as a "hobby" many times before. When Apple updated its store website to...
  • Herbalife increases share buyback 50%

    Herbalife increases share buyback 50%
    Herbalife Ltd. boosted its share buyback 50% to $1.5 billion and announced a $1-billion sale of convertible bonds. Fourth-quarter earnings were probably $1.26 to $1.30 a share based on preliminary results, excluding some items, the Los Angeles company...
  • ETF that models billionaires' investments to launch in spring

    ETF that models billionaires' investments to launch in spring
    IBillionaire Inc., a company that models investments of the world's wealthiest people, plans to offer an exchange traded fund this spring that will allow the public to "invest like a billionaire," its top executive said Tuesday. After receiving about $1...
  • Apple bought back $14 billion of its stock after shares plunged

    Apple bought back $14 billion of its stock after shares plunged
    Chief Executive Tim Cook said Apple Inc. repurchased $14 billion of its stock over the last two weeks after a weak outlook caused its share price to plunge. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Cook said he was "surprised" by the 8% drop one...
  • Herbalife shares gain after analyst names stock a top pick for 2014

    Herbalife shares gain after analyst names stock a top pick for 2014
    Shares of Herbalife Ltd. were gaining Thursday after an analyst named the Los Angeles nutritional product company's stock a top pick for 2014. Tim Ramey, an analyst with D.A. Davidson & Co., has been bullish on the company for more than a year, even...
  • Herbalife perseveres amid 'pyramid scheme' accusations

    Herbalife perseveres amid 'pyramid scheme' accusations
    A year ago, activist investor Bill Ackman rocked Wall Street with a $1-billion bet that shares of Herbalife Ltd., the Los Angeles seller of weight-loss and nutrition products, would slide to zero. Herbalife was a "pyramid scheme," bound to be undone...
  • Herbalife takes another bite out of Bill Ackman

    Herbalife takes another bite out of Bill Ackman
    Followers of Herbalife, the Los Angeles peddler of nutritional supplements, know it's actually two stories rolled into one. One is the story of how a company with a questionable business model, overhyped products, and an almost invisible research and...