The recently-introduced Second Amendment Sanctuary Act isn’t all that novel, and may need different enforcement mechanisms if it’s to succeed. This, according to Tennessee Firearms Association Executive Director John Harris. In interviews with The Tennessee Star, Harris and State Representative Scotty Campbell (R-Mountain City) discussed the merits and shortcomings of Campbell’s latest gun rights bill.
Harris predicted that this legislation would fail to fix the original problem presented in a nearly-identical bill signed into law in 2015. He added that another similar bill, the Firearms Freedom Act – made law in 2009 in response to President Barack Obama taking office – affords a similar defense against federal government actions, though he noted that enforcement of those two laws hasn’t occurred.
“This is a Tenth Amendment issue as much as a Second Amendment issue. They just sort of withered under the Obama Administration. In their flurry to pass [these laws], states didn’t do much about putting enforcement mechanisms in them,” stated Harris.
Harris suggested that the legislation take a different direction entirely by flat-out refusing to adjudicate the constitutionality of federal government orders, regulations, or laws concerning the Second Amendment. Instead, he argued that legislative focus should only be on making the federal government enforce its own laws through its own means. Harris referenced a U.S. Supreme Court case from the late 1990s, Printz v. United States, which established the precedent that the federal government can’t coerce states to implement regulatory programs.
“[The act is] just a restatement of previous bills,” stated Harris. “Conceptually, what they ought to be doing is taking the ‘none of the federal laws will be enforced with any state laws’ period.”
Following initial coverage from The Star on Thursday, Campbell acknowledged to The Star that the legislation would require additional language to fortify its intended impact.
“We are working on improving HB0928 to specifically detail the process to determine whether or not an executive order or federal law is in violation of the Constitution,” stated Campbell. “The bill as drafted has not established the process and we hope to through an amendment. I think the bill, as written, would help us in the event of future court challenges. The judges would be aware of the intention of the code section. This would create Tennessee’s position on such unconstitutional terms.”
Campbell clarified that, at this point, the bill serves as a blanket mandate and doesn’t establish a judicial review or committee. It will be up for future discussion on amendments to determine what interpretations of constitutionality may be included within the act. The clarification on Second Amendment constitutionality, Campbell said, will inform the courts that Tennessee shouldn’t comply with the federal government on that issue.
“Here’s what we have: it will draw the line in the sand on Tennessee’s position,” stated Campbell. “Some people say this is about politics – this is all about the judicial system. We’re trying to protect ourselves with our Tenth Amendment rights and our constitutional rights.”
On another note, Harris opined that the labeling the bill as a “sanctuary” poses another issue. He referenced the reliance on the term by cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws, like Santa Ana in California. He noted that the move by Virginian cities several years ago to declare themselves sanctuary cities against red flag laws initiated the idea for others to declare themselves similar sanctuary cities. Harris argued that this understanding of the term is mistaken.
“The sanctuary concept came from the progressive left through the states that had mainly cities that refused to enforce drug laws – like pot or marijuana – or refused to enforce valid immigration laws,” stated Harris. “It’s not really fair or important to call it a ‘sanctuary’ because it concedes the federal government has the authority to pass it – we [as a state] should just say we don’t care.”
Campbell disagreed. He told The Star that their use of the term “sanctuary” coincides with both constituent support and precedent in state and nationwide.
“I’m using a phrase that’s well-branded and well-stated in our state and our country,” asserted Campbell. “It lets [the federal government] know where we stand – just like the majority of Tennessee counties have wanted.”
Last summer, a bill to make Tennessee a sanctuary state died in committee after passage in the House.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
Photo “John Harris” by NewsChannel 5. Background Photo “Gun Show” by M&R Glasgow. CC BY 2.0.