As political statements go, the Second Amendment Protection Act, which the Kansas Legislature approved in 2013, doesn’t bother with subtlety.
It was an act of defiance of the Obama administration’s efforts to strengthen gun laws in response to more mass murders than most Americans can keep track of.
Whether the law will ever be enforced is another matter. As for the Second Amendment, it is not in any peril.
The Kansas law declares that the federal government has no jurisdiction over firearms made and sold in Kansas. Further, the law makes it a felony for any U.S. government employee to attempt to enforce federal regulations on Kansas-only firearms, ammunition or accessories. For good measure, the law also prohibits state and local officials from attempting to enforce federal gun regulations involving Kansas-only firearms.
The legislation was a lawsuit waiting to happen the moment Gov. Sam Brownback signed it. And a lawsuit — or lawsuits — won’t be cheap. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has estimated costs to defend the law at $625,000.
The first lawsuit came early this month from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. (The campaign is named for Jim Brady, who as President Ronald Reagan’s press secretary, was seriously wounded in the March 1981 assassination attempt on the president.)
The issue also has drawn the attention of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who told Gov. Brownback in a letter that, “… a state certainly may not criminalize the exercise of federal responsibilities.”
As Kansas lawmakers well knew when they lined up to support the measure, U.S. courts on multiple occasions have ruled that states cannot set aside or override federal laws. A federal appeals court last year struck down a Montana law that, like the Kansas law, applies to a small number of firearms that supporters think don’t fall under the federal government’s authority to regulate interstate commerce.
Like the Second Amendment itself, that authority is in the U.S. Constitution, which asserts the document itself and federal laws are “the supreme law of the Land.”
We’re not aware of any arrests by Kansas officials of federal employees for trying to uphold the supremacy of federal law over Kansas law on this matter. Perhaps that’s because there hasn’t been a confrontation. And perhaps that’s because the governor and the Legislature fear that an expensive and embarrassing defeat will spoil the fun of thumbing their noses at Washington.