The Biden administration is firing back at the state of Missouri over the new Second Amendment Preservation Act, arguing that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution requires law enforcement in the state to enforce any and all federal gun control laws.
The Associated Press received a copy of the letter sent by Justice Department officials on Wednesday evening, and reports that Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton claims that the new law “threatens to disrupt the working relationship between federal and local authorities.”
The Justice Department argued in the letter that the state lacks the authority to shield any Missouri businesses or citizens from federal law or to prevent federal law enforcement officials from carrying out their duties.
Boynton said the bill “conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulation” and federal law would supersede the state’s new statute. He said federal agents and the U.S. attorney’s offices in the state would continue to enforce all federal firearms laws and regulations. He asked that Parson and Eric Schmitt, the state’s attorney general, clarify the law and how it would work in a response by Friday.
The Second Amendment Preservation Act doesn’t conflict with federal gun laws and regulations; it simply states that state and local police won’t be enforcing federal gun control laws that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms. Federal laws aren’t nullified by the new law, but it leaves enforcement up to federal agencies themselves. And contrary to Boynton’s claims, the Supreme Court has already ruled that the federal government cannot compel states to “enact or administer a federal regulatory program.” As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion in Printz v. United States:
We held in New York that Congress cannot compel the States to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Today we hold that Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the State’s officers directly. The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policymaking is involved, and no case by case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.
The Second Amendment isn’t the only area of federal law where states have taken a hands-off approach. More than a dozen states, for instance, have already legalized the recreational use of marijuana even though it remains illegal under federal law. Will the Biden administration be sending a similar letter to Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont when he signs legislation allowing residents to purchase and use cannabis?
What about illegal immigration? California adopted a “sanctuary state” law a few years ago that bars state and local law enforcement from enforcing or cooperating in the enforcement of most federal immigration laws, and the Supreme Court allowed the law to stand when it refused to accept a legal challenge last June. The Biden Justice Department hasn’t challenged California or cities that have imposed similar sanctuary laws for illegal immigrants. In fact, it’s done the opposite. In April Attorney a top DOJ official rescinded a Trump administration rule that blocked DOJ grants to sanctuary cities.
In an internal memo seen by Reuters, acting head of the Office of Justice Programs Maureen Henneberg said that prior grant recipients, including cities, counties and states that were recipients of the department’s popular $250 million annual grant program for local law enforcement, will no longer be required to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a condition of their funding.
She also ordered staff to take down any pending Justice Department grant applications with similar strings attached and start the process over again.
In the memo, Henneberg, who leads the department’s largest grant-making arm, said she had instructed staff to “pull down and revise all solicitations that describe requirements or priority consideration elements or criteria pertaining to immigration.”
The Biden administration seems to be taking the position that not only do states or localities not have to enforce federal laws regarding marijuana or illegal immigration; they can’t face any sort of financial sanction for doing so. Meanwhile, they must enforce every gun control law put in place at the federal level or else risk losing federal grants and assistance. It’s one thing to make that argument in a letter to Gov. Brad Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt. It’s another to try to defend that double standard in court.
I’m looking forward to seeing the response from Missouri officials, and my guess is that AG Eric Schmitt is eager to defend the new law from any legal assault by the Biden administration. Not only is the Second Amendment Preservation Act on solid legal ground, but fighting for the law in a legal challenge brought by the DOJ would be a boon to Schmitt’s campaign for the U.S. Senate seat that will be up for grabs in next year’s midterms.