Our Opinion: Nullification laws invite chaos in governing

Lawmaking again this year will veer into the bizarre.

Conservative legislators have proposed a state law designed not only to ignore federal law, but to criminalize enforcement efforts by federal authorities.

Because gun control is a hot-button issue, we must begin with an important distinction.

We support the right to bear arms, as outlined in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. We do not believe any state is empowered to augment — either by strengthening or weakening — provisions of the federal Constitution.

The proposal before state lawmakers would nullify certain federal firearms regulations from being enforced in Missouri. In addition, it would enact civil and criminal penalties for law enforcement officers who attempt to enforce those regulations.

Punishing officers for doing their sworn duty may sound like a crazy concept, but a similar law came within one vote of being enacted last year. A law passed by Republican majorities in the Legislature was blocked by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto, which was sustained by the narrowest of margins.

If such a nullification law were to clear a gubernatorial veto, it likely would not survive a legal challenge.

Courts consistently have upheld what is commonly known as the “Supremacy Clause.” Article VI of the U.S. Constitution reads: “The Constitution, and the Laws of the United States … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.”

Supporters of this year’s bill, however, have adopted a new strength-in-numbers approach; they propose delaying the effective date until 2017, or sooner if at least four other states adopt similar laws.

“We continue to see the federal government overreach their rightful bounds, and if we can create a situation where we have some unity among states, then I think it puts us in a better position to make that argument,” said Brian Nieves, R-Washington and the bill’s sponsor.

We see nothing in that argument that trumps the “Supremacy Clause.”

If states — individually or in combination — can sidestep federal law, can local governments similarly vote to nullify state laws. Nullification laws upset the concept of orderly governing and invite chaos.

Missouri, like other states, elects U.S. senators and representatives. If Missourians believe the federal Constitution needs added protections, let’s send that message to our representatives in Congress rather than pass an unconstitutional state law.

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