Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, is introducing a bill that would partially protect North Dakotans from arbitrary changes in federal gun laws. I assisted Becker in conducting research for this bill. I would like to engage the public in informed, thoughtful dialogue before anti-gun fear-mongers smear this bill.
Let’s review the facts. Due to the anti-commandeering doctrine of the 10th Amendment, this bill in current draft form is 100 percent constitutional. The anti-commandeering doctrine is a well-established legal interpretation which limits the ability of the federal government to coerce state and local officials into enforcing federal law. This is the same legal doctrine that allows sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants to defy cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
The history of the anti-commandeering doctrine is rich in protecting both state’s rights and human rights. In Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842), the United States Supreme Court held that the federal government could not force states to implement or carry out the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. Similarly, in Printz v. the United States (1997), the Supreme Court ruled in favor of local sheriffs that refused to enforce the background checks required in the federal Brady Gun Bill. These are just a few cases in a long history of established legal precedent.
The anti-commandeering doctrine is fundamental to American Federalism. Furthermore, any attempt to punish North Dakotans for refusing to enforce federal gun laws will almost certainly fail. In Independent Business v. Sebelius (2012), the Supreme Court held that the federal government could not compel states to expand Medicaid by threatening to withhold funding for Medicaid programs already in place. This precedent severely limits the ability of the federal government to force North Dakota to enforce any federal laws by withholding federal funding, ensuring priorities such as federal highway and agriculture programs aren’t weaponized against the state.
The bill is unlike past iterations of similar bills. This bill doesn’t create conflicts between state and federal officials which would violate the constitutional supremacy of federal law. Federal officials will still be free to enforce federal gun laws within North Dakota.
This bill doesn’t ban local officials from cooperating with federal officials. The bill creates clear guidelines for such cooperation in regards to firearms. For example, if someone commits a felony while in possession of a federally illegal firearm, the bill allows federal officials to be informed of the violation of federal law.
If there is a national security issue involving firearms the bill will enable federal officials to appeal to a North Dakota district court judge to compel local police cooperation with federal agents. This bill also makes exceptions for when a violation of North Dakota’s gun laws also coincides with a violation of federal gun statutes.
In short, firearms which are illegal (or highly regulated) under North Dakota century code will remain so and cooperating with federal officials in regards to those weapons will remain legal. This law accomplishes one thing. It allows North Dakotans to decide what is a bad or good gun.