DENVER — A tide of anger at Washington’s gun-control efforts is sweeping through statehouses from South Carolina to North Dakota, taking the form of laws that would let states ignore — or at least resist — any new national gun restrictions.
Lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills that would nullify any new efforts to further restrict access to guns or high-capacity magazines within their borders. Some have provocative language calling for states to arrest and prosecute federal agents who dare to enforce new firearms regulations.
Some of the measures have died quietly or been voted down amid concerns they are unconstitutional. Others are moving along with support from rural, pro-gun Republicans, who say their constituents are threatened by Washington’s push — however halting and uncertain — for stricter gun laws.
Quixotic as they may be, the nullification moves reach back to John C. Calhoun and the antebellum South, and tap a deep frustration with what conservative lawmakers call Washington’s intrusion on the rights of states and gun owners. The spirit, while more muted, echoes the state-level backlash to President Barack Obama’s healthcare law in 2010.
“It’s about citizens having the ability to be armed to protect themselves in their homes,” said Casey Guernsey, a Missouri state representative and hunter who holds an annual coyote-shoot in his district as a charity fund-raiser. His bill to block any new gun laws has 60 co-sponsors in the state’s Republican-controlled House and is likely to come up for a hearing next week, he said.
“We aren’t here to do the bidding of the federal government,” he said. “Whenever they go out of bounds, it’s our responsibility to step up.”
They are supported by states’ rights groups like the Tenth Amendment Center (named for the Constitutional provision that grants power to the states and people), and have allies among the scores of rural sheriffs who are objecting to new gun laws.
In Wyoming, home to some of the country’s least restrictive gun regulations, a bill to exempt the state from any new gun-control laws sailed through the Republican-controlled House by a vote of 46-13 and is now headed to the State Senate.
The measure, called the Firearm Protection Act, declares that any new gun-control laws or executive orders that ban semiautomatic weapons or limit ammunition clip sizes are “unenforceable” in Wyoming. Any federal agent who tries to enforce gun-control measures would be guilty of a felony punishable by five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. It also allows the state’s attorney general to defend Wyoming residents prosecuted for violating federal gun laws.
“I don’t want to see federal agents arrested. That’s not the goal,” said Rep. Mark Baker, a Republican from southwest Wyoming. “It gives us a way to challenge them.”