The horrific murders of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 prompted the worst sort of response from legislatures in Kansas and Missouri.
Lawmakers rejected any discussion of ways to keep firearms away from dangerous individuals, and instead caved in to false but full-blown hysteria about a nonexistent threat to constitutional freedoms. Over the past two years, they have proposed and in some cases passed laws that defy U.S. Supreme Court rulings, the wishes of local communities and common sense.
Fortunately, recent days have brought some welcome pushback.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed a lawsuit challenging a 2013 Kansas law that exempts guns made, sold and kept in Kansas from all federal laws and regulations.
The ill-advised law makes it a felony for any federal law enforcement officer or employee to attempt to enforce U.S. laws intended to protect citizens from gun violence.
“The statute is remarkable for its complete disregard of basic and long-established principles of constitutional law,” said Stuart Plunkett, a lawyer for a group of Kansas residents who are named as plaintiffs.
Indeed, courts have consistently ruled that federal law trumps state law. And state laws that attempt to nullify federal laws have been declared unconstitutional. As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a 2012 letter to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, “a state certainly may not criminalize the exercise of federal responsibilities.”
The two-year-old Kansas law has had little effect to this point, in part because officials have been loath to provoke a legal challenge. But Brownback’s re-election campaign seized upon the legal challenge as an opportunity to rally the conservative base.
A fund-raising email ginned up a warning about “the gun-grabbers at the Brady Center,” and said Brownback would stand by the controversial law.
Precedent is not on his side, however. A federal appeals court last year struck down a similar Montana law. The U.S. Supreme Court has twice declined to review the case.
Kansas, which is draining its reserve fund to pay its bills, is hardly in financial shape to take on a costly and almost certainly losing legal fight. Instead of firing off blustery emails, Brownback should show some leadership and find a way to extract Kansas from this legal tangle of its own making.
The Missouri General Assembly tried but failed for the last two years to get its own nullification bill signed into law. Lawmakers this session settled for a bill that expanded gun rights in several unwise ways.
Gov. Jay Nixon made a good move by vetoing that bill on Monday. He cited a provision in the bill that would allow school districts to select teachers and administrators to serve as armed “school protection officers,” calling it “simply the wrong approach” for school safety.
But nothing in current state law prevents school districts from allowing employees to be armed, and some already do so. Senate Bill 656 simply granted them a formal mechanism.
The bill also sought to prohibit local governments from banning open carrying of firearms; lower the legal age for concealed carry from 21 to 19, and prevent medical professionals from asking patients if they owned guns. Barring an override of Nixon’s veto, those unwise measures thankfully won’t take effect.
Citizens increasingly are speaking up against overwrought attempts by state legislatures to expand gun rights at the expense of local governments and public safety. It is heartening to see decisive actions taken to counteract them.