Steve Chapman

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 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 Tenth 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.


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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