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The Constitution Permits Sanctuary States — For Guns

State anti-commandeering statutes are needed to thwart federal gun control laws that will proliferate after 2020.
by Matthew Monforton Read Profile arrow_right_alt

California prides itself on being a “sanctuary state” in which state and local law enforcement officials are prohibited by statute from cooperating with federal immigration agencies.

Several patriotic county officials in Illinois are now trying to get in on the sanctuary game — but with a twist:

Multiple rural Illinois counties have passed resolutions establishing a so-called “sanctuary” for gun owners in a bid to thwart the state legislature’s efforts to enact stricter gun control … .The resolutions aim to send a message to the Democratic-controlled Legislature in the state that if it passes the proposed gun bills, such as increasing the minimum age for owning a gun or a bump stock ban, the counties will instruct their employees to ignore the new laws.

They have the right idea. Unfortunately, they live in the wrong state. Counties are creatures of state government, so state governments have ultimate authority over the actions of counties and county officials. Illinois authorities will crack down on these patriots — and probably sooner rather than later.

But while establishing sanctuary counties for gun owners won’t work in pajama-boy Illinois, the Constitution offers a strategy for establishing sanctuary states for gun owners and their guns — at least in states whose residents still take seriously the right to keep and bear arms. This strategy arises from a lawsuit filed in 1993 by Jay Printz, a Montana sheriff, that challenged a federal law requiring local law enforcement to perform background checks for prospective handgun purchasers.

Illinois counties will likely lose their fight against their state. But Sheriff Printz had better luck fighting the feds, ironically, due to an important constitutional and historical principle: though counties are created by states, states are not created by the federal government. This means federal authorities cannot issue edicts to state and local officials the way that states can do to counties. As the Supreme Court stated in Printz v. United States, “Although the States surrendered many of their powers to the new Federal Government, they retained a residuary and inviolable sovereignty.”

As a result, the Supreme Court struck down the federal government’s attempt to hijack state and local officials to do the feds’ dirty work:

The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program … .such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.

This principle of law, known as the anti-commandeering doctrine, provides the constitutional underpinning for state statutes prohibiting state and local law enforcement officials from aiding and abetting gun seizures by the feds.

The open borders crowd has exploited the anti-commandeering doctrine to transition California into a sanctuary state for illegal aliens. It’s time for other states to harness the doctrine to protect law-abiding gun owners.

As the Supreme Court noted in the Printz case, “a healthy balance of power between the States and the Federal Government will reduce the risk of tyranny and abuse from either front.” For now, the federal government is providing at least some balance against relentless efforts by states like Illinois to eradicate gun rights. But Republicans won’t hold Congress forever and, indeed, may lose it in a few short months. And Donald Trump will stop being president some day — and may stop being pro-gun even sooner, a risk that becomes apparent whenever his conservative mask slips.

States can’t stop a future Democrat Congress from enacting more gun control measures. But the feds do not have the manpower to adequately enforce them — not if a critical mass of states prohibits state and local officials from aiding and abetting future federal gun grabs. Now is not too early for gun owners to start lobbying, in states that take the Second Amendment seriously, for the kind of sanctuary they’ll need in the dark days ahead — sanctuary for guns and the remaining patriots who own them.

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