Can "Gun People" Learn From "Weed People"?

The answer is “yes”, according to the 10th Amendment Center’s Matt Maharrey, who has a new column for the new year in which he implores gun owners to follow the lead of cannabis activists in going around federal law. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we take a closer look at Maharrey’s argument to see if there’s any fire behind the smoke.

Maharrey begins his open letter to “gun people” by acknowledging that Joe Biden poses a threat to the Second Amendment rights of Americans, even if the Senate were to remain in Republican hands. After all, he writes, “there are quite a few liberal Republican senators who might just go along with more gun control, especially if there is some kind of tragic shooting incident that gets people all riled up about guns again.”

We know that much is true. In fact, we’ve already seen Republicans like Sen. Pat Toomey embrace the idea of “universal background checks,” even if there’s no way for the federal government to easily police private transfers of firearms. And Maharrey is also correct when he points out that “modern presidents have proven that they don’t really need Congress to implement gun control. They can do a lot of damage to the Second Amendment via executive order,” pointing to Donald Trump’s ban on bump stocks, which took effect in 2019.

None of that matters, according to Maharrey, “because the weed people have given you the blueprint to stop federal gun control in its tracks.”

Actually, the weed people didn’t come up with the blueprint. James Madison gave it to us in Federalist #46 when he said states could impede “unwarrantable” federal actions (or even warrantable actions that happen to be unpopular) with “a refusal to cooperate with officers of the union.”

This is what marijuana activists have done. Instead of focusing on D.C. politics, they took action at the state and local level. And they’ve enjoyed great success. Despite federal prohibition, 36 states have legalized marijuana in some form. During the 2020 election, four more states legalized recreational marijuana, bringing the total number to 15.

As an aside, I find interesting that many folks assume that the legalization of marijuana is assured, thanks to the number of states that have legalized recreational use of the drug, yet an issue like Constitutional Carry is still seen as controversial, even though there are now 16 states that have legalized carrying without a license on the part of legal gun owners.

Anyway, I digress. Maharrey’s “blueprint” is simple; defy any sort of federal prohibition or gun controls at the state level.

When a state legalizes marijuana for medical or recreational use, it removes a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By legalizing cannabis, these states can essentially sweep away at least some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests. Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

States need to start doing the same thing with firearms that they’re doing with cannabis, according to Maharrey. I happen to think he’s largely correct, but I also think that we’ve already seen the beginnings of this with the rise of the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement in recent years. What Maharrey is talking about isn’t really new, and it didn’t start with the “weed people.” You can go back to Prohibition 100 years ago and see the same tactics at work; “wet” cities or states telling the federal government that they weren’t going to spend a dime enforcing federal anti-liquor laws. Most Second Amendment Sanctuaries today have said the same thing when it comes to enforcing unconstitutional gun control laws.

There’s also one big difference between pot and guns, as far as defying federal law goes. The right to toke up isn’t included in most state constitutions, but the right to keep and bear arms is. From 1776 to today, most states have included the right to keep and bear arms in their constitutions, and several have amended their constitution to further strengthen or protect the right in recent decades.

This doesn’t contradict Maharrey’s point, but rather buttresses his assertion that states still have a role to play when it comes to resisting federal power grabs. I do think that Maharrey veers off-point towards the end of his piece, though he manages to stay on-brand as a 10th Amendment activist.

The feds would almost certainly have the same problem maintaining any federal gun control scheme if states simply stopped enforcing it.

But for whatever reason, you all don’t seem to want to press that option. You gun folks would rather send money to the feckless NRA, or elect a “Second Amendment president” like Trump (who ends up awful on the Second Amendment), or beg federal judges to protect their rights.

Newsflash – that isn’t working.

What I’m trying to tell you is to follow the lead of the weed people. Show some guts like the weed people. Get out there and nullify like the weed people. Because when it’s all said and done, that’s the only way you’re going to stop the erosion of the Second Amendment. The federal government isn’t ever going to limit the federal government.

I’m a supporter of legalizing cannabis for recreational use, but let’s be honest here. Even in states that have legalized recreational marijuana, like Colorado, we’re still seeing local, state, and federal busts for violations of drug laws. In fact, those agencies are still working together in some instance, like this drug bust in Colorado in May of 2019.

Colorado law enforcement officers, district attorneys and federal authorities collaborated on what they describe as the largest collective marijuana bust in the state’s history.

During a press conference on May 24, Jason Dunn, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado, discussed the two-year investigation that included nearly 250 location searches in eight counties across the state and led to  42 arrests after raids over the last three days.

“To be clear, these grows are not ones that were otherwise legal under state law. These are pure black market,” Dunn said. “We want people to know these grow operations are not occurring in abandoned houses or poorer parts of the metro area. These are happening in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods, [where] many of us live and raise families.”

Yes, things like Second Amendment Sanctuaries offer some relief for gun owners (as long as their local jurisdictions follow through and don’t actively enforce unconstitutional or questionable laws), but they’re not a utopian solution that rids us of the heavy hand of federal gun control laws. There are still plenty of reasons for gun owners to support groups like the Second Amendment Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, Gun Owners of America, and even the NRA; from lobbying and litigation to education, training, and outreach to non-gun owners.

There’s no one magic solution that will protect our Second Amendment rights. Instead it takes a multi-pronged approach. Local and state-level attempts to push back against federal gun restrictions are a good idea, as far as I’m concerned, but let’s not pretend that it’s the only tool we need in our toolbox.

Jul 25, 2021 8:30 AM ET