Murphy: Defund the police if they don't enforce gun control

Murphy: Defund the police if they don't enforce gun control

Back in the build-up to the midterms, Democrats were terrified of being tagged as the party that supported defunding the police. After a better than expected Election Day, however, one U.S. senator is now reviving the slogan… with a gun control twist.

Appearing on CNN on Sunday, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) declared that he thinks Congress needs to punish those Second Amendment sanctuaries across the country that have declared their intent not to enforce any new federal gun control legislation, and in some cases any additional state-level gun control measures as well. Pointing to the fact that El Paso County, Colorado is one of those sanctuaries, Murphy argued that the designation somehow enabled the suspect in the Q nightclub shooting to carry out his attack.

Murphy condemned the actions of some Colorado counties that have declared their status as “Second Amendment sanctuaries” to CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday, arguing they were circumventing state and federal laws. More than half of the state’s counties passed some form of the resolution after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a “red flag” law in 2019, which allowed police to temporarily take away the guns of those who may pose a risk to society. The law went into effect in 2020.

“The majority of counties in this country declare that they are not going to enforce state and federal gun laws, they have decided that they are going to essentially refuse to implement the laws that are on the books. That is a growing problem in this country,” he said. “I think we’re gonna have to have a conversation about that in the United States Senate. Do we want to continue to supply fundamental law enforcement in counties that refuse to implement state and federal gun laws?”

Murphy acknowledged President Joe Biden’s preferred solution—banning assault weapons—was not possible in the current Senate, as there likely wasn’t 60 votes. The Colorado Springs shooting occurred in El Paso County, one of 37 counties that have implemented a “sanctuary” resolution, despite what Murphy said were popular “red flag” laws.

“You’re just temporarily taking guns away from people,“ he said. “I think we have to have a conversation about whether we can continue to fund law enforcement in these states where they’re refusing to implement these gun laws.”

I welcome that Senate debate, because it won’t take much for Republicans to prove Murphy’s idea is not only terrible, but would be a flagrant abuse of power given what the Supreme Court has said about local law enforcement’s role in enforcing federal gun laws. After the passage of the Brady Act in the early 1990s, local law enforcement were required under the new law to provide background checks on all commercial gun sales until the NICS system was established. Sheriffs Jay Printz and Richard Mack separately sued over the mandate, and in 1997 the Supreme Court ruled that the provision was unconstitutional.

The Court constructed its opinion on the old principle that state legislatures are not subject to federal direction. The Court explained that while Congress may require the federal government to regulate commerce directly, in this case by performing background-checks on applicants for handgun ownership, the Necessary and Proper Clause does not empower it to compel state CLEOs to fulfill its federal tasks for it – even temporarily. The Court added that the Brady Bill could not require CLEOs to perform the related tasks of disposing of handgun-application forms or notifying certain applicants of the reasons for their refusal in writing, since the Brady Bill reserved such duties only for those CLEO’s who voluntarily accepted them.

If the federal government can’t compel state or local police to “fulfill its federal tasks” (including enforcing federal gun control laws), then Congress has no authority to force local law enforcement to enforce state statutes. Murphy’s argument quickly runs into the brick wall of federalism, which may be of no concern to him but still matters very much to the Supreme Court.

But Murphy’s idea is also terrible from a practical perspective. Who are the people who would really be harmed by Murphy’s proposal if, by some freak circumstance it was enacted into law and upheld by the courts? Cops? Well, sure, there would be reductions in force in many circumstances if federal grant money were pulled away, but the number of unemployed police officers would be dwarfed by the number of Americans living in communities that would suddenly have even fewer cops on the street. Murphy may be aiming for county sheriffs and Second Amendment advocates, but he’s hitting the general public with his misguided call to defund police in 2A sanctuaries.

Then there’s the hypocrisy. Why doesn’t Murphy believe that sanctuary cities and states for illegal immigration shouldn’t face the same federal defunding for not enforcing federal law? Or the states that have legalized marijuana despite the fact that its still illegal at the federal level. In Connecticut, residents can possess 1.5 ounces on their person and have up to 5 ounces at home, though even a single bud is prohibited under federal law. What should happen to police funding in his own state, given lawmakers’ flagrant refusal to fully implement and enforce federal drug laws?

Yes, please, let’s have this debate in the Senate, if only so that Murphy can be called out; not only for his authoritarian impulses and willingness to tread all over the Constitution, but for contemptuously treating his fellow Americans as mere pawns in the culture war. Murphy’s not only trying to make it harder for them to exercise their right to armed self-defense, he wants defund the very departments he says he should rely on for our safety instead. That’s just twisted, and I’d love to see him named and shamed on the Senate floor.