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Monday, July 14, 2014

Brady Campaign Sues Over Kansas Gun Law

The Associated Press reports:

The Brady Campaign filed a federal lawsuit last week against a 2013 state law declaring that the federal government has no authority to regulate guns, ammunition and accessories manufactured, sold and kept only in Kansas. Brady officials argue that it is a blatantly unconstitutional attempt by a state to nullify federal laws. 
. . . 
The law makes it a felony for any U.S. government employee to attempt to enforce federal regulations for Kansas-only firearms, ammunition or accessories and allows lawsuits by the state attorney general or county prosecutors to block federal enforcement attempts. The statute also says no state or local official shall attempt to enforce any federal gun regulation for Kansas-only items.
The full complaint is available here. The Brady Campaign argues that the federal government has the authority to regulate firearms that are made and sold within Kansas. From the complaint:

58. In the exercise of its Commerce Clause authority, Congress has enacted “comprehensive legislation to regulate the interstate market in a fungible commodity.” See Raich, 545 U.S. at 22. This firearms regulation properly reaches the intrastate manufacture, ownership, and possession of firearms and ammunition. Kansas has no power to “carve out” intrastate “Kansas” firearms from the comprehensive federal regulation.

59. The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit explicitly upheld federal regulation of entirely intrastate possession of firearms. United States v. Haney, 264 F.3d 1161 (10th Cir. 2001). The court held that the firearm regulation was an “essential part of the federal scheme to regulate interstate commerce in dangerous weapons.” Id. at 1168. The court found “no question that the market in firearms generally is heavily interstate — indeed, international — in character.” Id. at 1169 (citing 18 U.S.C. § 922(q)(1)(D)). The court also found that “[b]ecause of the ease of moving weapons across state and national lines, Congress has rationally concluded that it cannot rely on the states to control the market in these devices by themselves.” Id.  Another federal appellate court squarely rejected a Montana law that attempted to do exactly what Kansas attempts here—to carve out an intrastate firearms market that Congress cannot regulate. See Montana Shooting Sports Ass’n. v. Holder, 727 F.3d 975, 982-983 (9th Cir. 2013) . . . .
The Brady Campaign seems to be on pretty solid legal ground in challenging the Kansas law. If the federal government has the authority to pass a law, and if a state law conflicts with the federal law, then under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause the federal law will trump the state's.

From a legal perspective, this case is fairly simple, since the Kansas law is pretty clearly unconstitutional. But that hasn't stopped supporters of the law from arguing that the Brady Campaign is playing politics with this lawsuit. From the AP:

GOP Gov. Sam Brownback's spokeswoman Eileen Hawley said, “It’s unfortunate that the Brady center has chosen to file such a politicized lawsuit.”


So far, the law has been mostly a symbolic protest against the federal government. There have been no known attempts to arrest federal employees or lawsuits over federal enforcement actions. . . . .
The law also is a vehicle for Republican politicians in Kansas to showcase the depth of their opposition to Democratic President Barack Obama’s administration ahead of this year’s elections. Brownback is a strong supporter of the law, and his re-election campaign sent out a fundraising email the day after the lawsuit was filed, seeking financial help for his “stand against the attacks from the Obama Administration and their gun-grabbing friends.”
Meanwhile, the Brady Campaign argues that Kansas's opposition to the federal government is akin to the sentiments that motivated opponents of Brown v. Board.

While the legal merits of the case are relatively simple, it will be interesting to watch the law's supporters and the Brady Campaign continue to duke it out on the public relations level.

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