In about a week, the legislators in the US state of Missouri will vote to override the state governor’s veto on a sweeping state law that would nullify all US federal gun laws in Missouri. This legislation would make it a crime for US federal agents to enforce federal gun laws in the state of Missouri. This proposed legislation is one of the most recent policy efforts to roll back the US federal government’s limited gun-control measures but it is also the most extreme example of a broader “nullification” movement in the United States.
This nullification movement focuses on states’ rights and the belief that states have the ability to defy or nullify federal authority. Guns are not the only public health relevant topic that figure into the nullification movement. 20 US states have legalized the medicinal use of marijuana, and Colorado and Washington recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana, all of which stand in direct conflict with federal law. Interestingly, the US Justice Department recently stated that it would not take legal or other actions to block state laws legalizing marijuana.
Missouri’s proposed gun law is an extreme example of nullification because it doesn’t just conflict with the federal law but actually makes it a crime for federal agents to enforce federal gun laws in the state. Imagine state officials trying to arrest federal agents for enforcing federal gun laws in Missouri. There is wide recognition that the proposed law is unconstitutional but that doesn’t seem to deter the vast majority of the state’s Republicans or even some of Missouri’s Democrats from voting for the original measure. Several of Missouri’s state legislators cited overwhelming constituent support for the proposed gun law as justification for their yes votes despite their own recognition that the measure is unconstitutional. This situation further highlights the deep divisions that exist in the United States related to the gun rights/gun violence prevention issue and the challenges that exist in policy making in a pluralistic society.