Opinion Columns & Blogs

April 26, 2013

Russell Arben Fox: What’s the purpose of state’s new gun law?

Regarding the Second Amendment Protection Act, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law last week: I’ve read the law, and I have a few questions for its authors.

Regarding the Second Amendment Protection Act, which Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law last week: I’ve read the law, and I have a few questions for its authors.

Was the aim to substantially expand the rights of gun owners in Kansas? Because it doesn’t do that. It never talks about what any of those rights may be. What it mainly does is provide a bunch of negatives, claiming that, under this Kansas law, any unconstitutional “act, law, treaty, order, rule or regulation of the government of the United States regarding a firearm” will be “null, void and unenforceable in the state of Kansas.”

That may be somewhat comforting to those who are paranoid about the tiny possibility that the national government could actually put forward any kind of anti-Second Amendment law. But for Kansas gun owners today who want to know what their legal rights positively are, the law is of little help.

Was the intention to deny the authority of the national government when it comes to guns? This is a more intriguing possibility: that this law is an attack on what has been the dominant interpretation of the U.S. Constitution throughout America’s entire history.

It’s easy to suspect this possibility, especially after reading the law’s lengthy Section 2, with its rather ornate and literal references to the Ninth and 10th amendments (both of which, according to the law, reserve powers as “a matter of contract between the state and people of Kansas and the United States” as they were understood “as of the time that the compact with the United States was agreed upon”).

Do the authors of this law wish we were still governed by the Articles of Confederation? Or if not by the articles, then at least by a reading of the Constitution that grants to the states the right to nullify and ignore national laws, on the assumption that they are natural sovereign bodies that are part of the American “compact” by free choice only? It’s possible, but personally I doubt that Brownback wants the argument over gun rights to become another nullification crisis, given that his overall policy positions don’t seem much like those a committed states’-rights localist or secessionist would hold to.

Was the hope to attract gun jobs to Kansas? That’s a claim made by some promoters of the law. But the evidence in support of this assertion is weak, especially given that this law requires some extensive documentation and labeling of any guns or gun components manufactured in Kansas in order to satisfy the requirement that the items in question be declared by the Legislature to “have not traveled in interstate commerce.”

So that leaves me with the obvious: Was the whole point just to look good in the eyes of anti-government conservative voters? If so, then I give lawmakers full credit. Uninformed defenders of gun rights probably will love this law, no matter how lacking in substance or how motivationally incoherent it may be.

Brownback and his allies may not have any real alternative in mind to our current constitutional order. But they politically benefit from making as though they believe (as a few of them no doubt genuinely do) there is a constitutional crisis at hand regarding gun rights.

What more explanation do you need for this strange document than that?

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