While the bill’s title focuses on federal gun regulations, it has far more to do with the 10th Amendment’s limit on the power of the federal government. It states, in part:
The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution for the United States guarantees to the states and their people all powers not granted to the federal government elsewhere in the constitution and reserves to the State and people of New Hampshire certain powers as they were understood at the time that New Hampshire ratified the Bill of Rights, particularly the Tenth Amendment in 1790. The guaranty of those powers is a matter of contract between the State and people of New Hampshire and the several States comprising the United States as of the time that the compact was agreed upon and adopted by New Hampshire and the several States comprising the United States.
The regulation of inter-state commerce was delegated by the People of the Several States to the federal government in the US Constitution. Since the regulation of intra-state commerce was not delegated to the federal government, this authority, as codified in law by the 10th Amendment, remains with the State governments or the People themselves.
HB1285 includes this principle in its text:
a personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured commercially or privately in New Hampshire and that remains within the state of New Hampshire is not subject to federal law or taxation, or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of congress to regulate interstate commerce. It is declared by the legislature that those items have not traveled in interstate commerce.
The authority of congress to regulate interstate commerce in basic materials does not include authority to regulate firearms, firearms accessories, and ammunition made in New Hampshire from those materials. Firearms accessories that are imported into New Hampshire from another state and that are subject to federal regulation as being in interstate commerce do not subject a firearm to federal regulation under interstate commerce because they are attached to or used in conjunction with a firearm in New Hampshire.
Unlike many other states that are considering Firearms Freedom Acts (FFA), the New Hampshire legislation includes official sanctions on any state or federal official violating the law, if adopted.
Any public servant of the State of New Hampshire as defined in RSA 640:2 that enforces or attempts to enforce a act, order, law, statute, rule or regulation of the government of the United States upon a personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured commercially or privately in New Hampshire and that remains within the State of New Hampshire shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor.
Any official, agent, or employee of the government of the United States, or employee of a corporation providing services to the government of the United States that enforces or attempts to enforce a act, order, law, statute, rule or regulation of the government of the United States upon a personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured commercially or privately in New Hampshire and that remains within the State of New Hampshire shall be guilty of a class B felony. (emphasis added)
Some supporters of the legislation say that a successful application of such a state-law would set a strong precedent and open the door for states to take their own positions on a wide range of activities that they see as not being authorized to the Federal Government by the Constitution.
The principle behind such legislation is nullification, which has a long history in the American tradition. When a state ‘nullifies’ a federal law, it is proclaiming that the law in question is void and inoperative, or ‘non-effective,’ within the boundaries of that state; or, in other words, not a law as far as the state is concerned.
All across the country, activists and state-legislators are pressing for similar legislation, to nullify specific federal laws within their states.
A proposed Constitutional Amendment to effectively ban national health care will go to a vote in Arizona in 2010. Thirteen states now have some form of medical marijuana laws – in direct contravention to federal laws which state that the plant is illegal in all circumstances. And, massive state nullification of the 2005 Real ID Act has rendered the law nearly void.
In the Virginia Resolution of 1798, James Madison wrote of the principle of interposition:
That this Assembly doth explicitly and peremptorily declare, that it views the powers of the federal government, as resulting from the compact, to which the states are parties; as limited by the plain sense and intention of the instrument constituting the compact; as no further valid that they are authorized by the grants enumerated in that compact; and that in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil, and for maintaining within their respective limits, the authorities, rights and liberties appertaining to them.
Here Madison asserts what is implied in nullification laws – that state governments not only have the right to resist unconstitutional federal acts, but that, in order to protect liberty, they are “duty bound to interpose” or stand between the federal government and the people of the state.
Felony charges for violations of citizens’ rights such as proposed in HB1285 are certainly an effort to interpose between state residents and an overreaching federal government. Time will tell if the State Apparatus will follow through with such needed actions should the bill pass.
Michael Boldin is the founder of the Tenth Amendment Center