New Gun-Rights Gambit Sweeping Nation: ‘Firearms Freedom’

Jeff Malet Photography

Supporters of gun rights have hit on a new gambit that ties in perfectly with the far-right’s fears during the Obama era.

Under the rationale that the federal government only has the power to regulate issues that affect inter-state commerce, they’ve been pushing legislation in states from Florida to Alaska that would exempt guns and ammunition made within the state from federal gun laws. The idea is “the latest crack cocaine for gun-rights advocates,” says Peter Hamm of the Brady Campaign.In seven states, bills have already been passed into law, and they’ve been introduced in 20 others. (Here’s a state-by-state map of where things stand.)

In most cases, say experts, the laws won’t have much practical effect, because very few of the guns sold in a given state — not to mention the ammunition they fire — were made in that state. They’re also likely unconstitutional, according to gun control groups, since the supremacy clause makes clear that federal laws trump state laws when the two are in conflict. In Oklahoma, Governor Brad Henry, a conservative Democrat, recently vetoed the bill, saying it wasn’t worth the cost of defending it in court because it would ultimately be struck down. Court challenges have already been launched in Wyoming and Montana. “We will take [the laws] seriously until the federal courts throw them out, as we presume,” says Hamm.

But in the context of other recent conservative challenges to federal action, the effort seems as much designed to make a point about state sovereignty as to make guns more accessible. It’s in keeping with the conservative challenge to the health-care reform law on similar grounds — and even with the new suggestion from Arizona right-wingers that states can determine who is and isn’t a U.S. citizen.

As one group supporting the campaign writes, “The [Firearms Freedom Act] is primarily a Tenth Amendment challenge to the powers of Congress under the “commerce clause,” with firearms as the object – it is a state’s rights exercise.”