On Jan. 11, five days before President Barack Obama unveiled 23 executive actions he intended to to take to reduce gun violence, Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R) announced that he was working on a firearms measure of his own.
“I am currently having legislation drafted that is similar to firearm legislation recently introduced in Wyoming,” Metcalfe wrote in a memorandum sent to his fellow House members. “My legislation would prohibit the enforcement of any new federal restriction, prohibition or registration requirement for firearms, magazines, and ammunition. My legislation would also require the state to intercede on behalf of Pennsylvania citizens against any federal attempt to register, ban or restrict the purchase or ownership of firearms and firearms accessories which are currently legal products.”
Metcalfe is one of many. Over the last several weeks, he and Republican lawmakers nationwide have introduced bills addressing firearms, the Second Amendment, and federal power. The bills are a response to President Barack Obama and Democrats’ renewed interest in gun control measures, which itself is a response to the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
At least 20 states have had some kind of firearm-related legislation recently introduced or currently pending: Texas, Utah, Arizona, Alaska, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Nebraska, New Mexico, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Iowa, Indiana, and Montana.
The language in the bills differs from state to state (and some states have seen several different bills proposed), as do some of the particulars. But the message and general thrust of the bills are the same: the lawmakers are telling the federal government to back off on guns.
“Our government and our legislature is not in place to simply do the bidding of the federal government,” Missouri state Rep. Casey Guernsey (R) told TPM in an interview. “That is not the function of a state. And there is an ability and a right, an inherent right, of states to protect [their] citizens when the federal government becomes overreaching.”
On Jan. 15, Guernsey introduced HB 170, which among other things would make it a class D felony for any federal official or agent to enforce or attempt to enforce any federal law or regulation on a firearm owned or manufactured in the state that remains “exclusively within the borders of the state.” It’s an idea contained in a number of other bills.
Asked what he imaged it would look like if Missouri were to, for instance, prosecute an agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Guernsey said that “hopefully, it would look like a very strong statement on the part of state government.”
While these bills have come all at once, lawmakers and professionals who are tracking the bills said there is no publicly identified group organizing or coordinating the efforts. Jon Griffin, a policy associate with the National Conference of State Legislatures who has been keeping a list of recent firearms bills, told TPM the bills did not appear to be particularly uniform.
Oklahoma state Sen. Nathan Dahm (R), for one, told TPM that a constituent had pointed him to model legislation prepared by The Tenth Amendment Center, a think tank which supports “the principles of strictly limited government.” (The center has prepared a model “2nd Amendment Preservation Act,” which serves to “prevent federal infringement on the right to keep and bear arms,” and maintains a map tracking which states have introduced similar bills.) Dahm said he liked the center’s model bill, but he “wanted to add some other things.”
On Jan. 16, Dahm introduced SB 548, which reads, in part:
The Legislature of the State of Oklahoma declares that the 2nd Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms free from infringement; that federal acts, laws, orders, rules, regulations, bans, or registration requirements regarding firearms constitute an infringement on the individual right, are not authorized by the Constitution of the United States and violate its true meaning and intent as given by the founders and ratifiers, and are hereby declared to be invalid in the State of Oklahoma, shall not be recognized by this state, are specially rejected by this state, and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in this state.
Any agent or employee of the federal government, or of a corporation providing services to the government, who enforces any measure found to be in violation of the act would face up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine, or both.
Dahm’s bill, along with a speech he gave at a Guns Across America Rally in Oklahoma City on Jan. 19, have earned the new lawmaker some welcome attention.
“I had people contacting me from as far away as Maine, California, Puerto Rico,” Dahm told TPM. “Even overseas. People from England and as far away as Russia, saying that they understand how important it is to protect our Second Amendment rights for self-defense.”
State lawmakers have tried using proposed legislation to protest perceived federal Second Amendment overreach in the past. A few years ago, Montana led the way on an effort to pass a measure known as the Firearms Freedom Act. The bill declares that firearms made and kept within state laws are beyond the reach of Congress’ authority. The measure passed in Montana and a half-dozen other states, according to firearmsfreedomact.com, a website which supports the measure. But it has since been tied up in litigation, and is currently at the appellate level. Some of the recent bills appear to owe some of their ideas to Firearms Freedom Act.
In South Carolina, state Sen. Tom Davis (R) has introduced S 0224, a joint resolution to nullify in South Carolina “any presidential executive order restricting, abridging, or otherwise infringing upon a citizen’s second amendment right to keep and bear arms.” In Texas, Rep. John Otto (R) has introduced HB 553, which makes it an offense for any state employee, officer, or public servant to enforce any law or rule related to firearm banning, confiscation, taxation, or registration, as well as any limitations imposed on ammunition. In Wyoming, state Rep. Kendell Kroeker (R) is working with Rep. Allen Jaggi to update a law that was passed in 2010. The bill would increase the penalties on federal agents who try to enforce federal laws or regulations on firearms that remain within state lines. It also declares unenforceable any new federal laws or rules that attempt to ban or restrict semi-automatic weapons or magazines or that require any form of firearm registration. In an email, Kroeker said he and Jaggi received assistance from an organization called Wyoming Gun Owners when putting the bill together.
In Virginia, Delegate Bob Marshall (R) is among those trying a different approach.
“If you start saying you’re going to start arresting federal agents per se, you’re in big trouble,” Marshall said. “People whip out the supremacy clause. I know a bunch of people don’t like that, but that’s going to happen. … Ours, it says, ‘OK, it’s your show. You pay for it. We’re not applauding.’”
Marshall’s bill, HB 2340, which was presented Jan. 18, doesn’t take federal laws head-on. Instead, it prevents any agency or employee of the state from assisting the federal government with investigations or prosecutions related to laws or regulations put in place after Dec. 31, 2012 that infringe “the individual Right to Keep and Bear Arms by imposing new restrictions on private ownership or private transfer of firearms, firearm magazines, ammunition, or components thereof.” Marshall’s idea is to withhold investigative resources and information from the federal government, which he believes would make new firearms measures unenforceable.
“This is a very simple tactic,” Marshall told TPM. “Mahatma Gandhi, he brought down the British Empire in the Far East by doing this very thing.
Dahm, the Oklahoma state senator, has received a small measure of internet fame for his efforts. His speech at the Guns Across America Rally was uploaded to YouTube on Jan. 19, under the title: “If only ALL Senators Spoke Like this Senator! MUST WATCH!!” Dahm is youthful looking, with short, dark hair, and a flair for reciting constitutional language with a twang. At the end of his speech, he noted that the following Monday was not only Inauguration Day but also Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As a coda to his remarks, he offered two quotations from the civil rights leader.
“Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ — we are not going to stand for this injustice,” Dahm told the receptive crowd. “Another quote that he said was, ‘Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.’ Now, I’m willing to give the President the benefit of the doubt, and believe that this is just sincere ignorance and not conscientious stupidity. But I’m here to say, no matter what it is, we in Oklahoma will not stand for it. The Second Amendment reigns supreme. ‘Shall not infringe’ means ‘shall not infringe.’”
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com