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Michigan, Federalism, and Gun Control

States are stepping up in the gun control debate, but should this issue really be addressed at the state level?

As partisan gridlock and legal ambiguity grip Washington, D.C., more and more state legislatures are weighing in on issues that, until recent years, have been part of a national debate.

This brings the concept of federalism sharply into focus, as it underlies some very divisive issues. We've seen states like Arizona pass laws on immigration, which they claim actually reinforces existing federal law.

In contrast, we've seen the decriminalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, in opposition to federal law. Each one of these issues is an ongoing debate, but a common thread linking them all is the debate over state's rights.

Now, federalism will also play an important role in the debate over gun control. Will federalism pass this coming test? Different states are taking very different actions regarding gun legislation, to preempt what will most likely be a drawn out debate in Washington. Certain states are currently drafting legislation that will; greatly restrict the type of firearms available to their citizens, limit the capacity of magazines, and implement more stringent background checks.

This month, the New York legislature passed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (S.A.F.E.) Act of 2013. This legislation effectively bans semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns with one or more "military style features." High capacity magazines will also be banned, and the maximum set at 7 rounds.

Other provisions in this legislation include universal background checks, government tracking of ammunition sales, strict reporting guidelines for mental health professionals, and strict recertification standards. The NY SAFE Act is now the strictest gun control legislation in the country; and many in the state of New York, including some law enforcement officials, are wondering whether or not this legislation violates the 2nd Amendment.  

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Whether you are preparing for a tyrannical government, an alien invasion, or the zombie apocalypse; you have the right to organize and lead your own military unit, and the members have the right to arm themselves. It is clear, from the language used, that the 2nd Amendment applies to military weapons, not hunting rifles. I may not like the thought of these types of weapons in the hands of civilians, especially as a veteran who spent years becoming proficient with one; but I understand that our Constitution protects those who exercise their rights responsibly, the same responsible citizens who are most impacted by this type of legislation. Article 1 Section 6 of our state Constitution pertains to bearing arms here in Michigan;

Every person has a right to keep and bear arms for the defense of himself and the state.

This seems to reinforce what is already guaranteed to us in the Bill of Rights, which is a good thing. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from passing laws that violate the Bill of Rights. It would stand to reason, then, that any state law that infringes on someone's right to bear arms, violates both the 2nd and the 14th Amendment....just saying.

So Washington will most likely turn to their pocket aces, a stacked Supreme Court and the commerce clause, to dance around any Constitutional issues they face on their path to stricter gun control. If you can't flat out ban something, you use the commerce clause to make it darn near impossible to buy or sell.

An assault weapons ban, even under the commerce clause, will be a daunting task for this administration; but from the latest measures proposed by Sen. Feinstein, and stumps from the Vice President, you can be sure they will try. This possibility has prompted 24 states to propose legislation to protect guns, ammunition, and accessories; as long as they are manufactured and sold within that state's borders. Michigan is one such state.

Last Wednesday, Michigan's Senate Judiciary Committee voted unanimously on Senate Bill 49, which protects the personal information of gun permit holders from FOIA requests. The bill will now move on to a full Senate vote. When it comes to the gun control issue, the Michigan legislature is working to make sure the federal government doesn't overstep its boundaries. Senate Bill 63 (Michigan Firearms Freedom Act) will again be considered by the Michigan legislature. SB 63 protects firearms and accessories manufactured in Michigan from federal gun legislation.

The bill reasons that as long as the firearms do not leave the state, the federal government may not regulate them as interstate commerce. The bill also protects import from other states of raw materials and insignificant parts used to manufacture firearms. The debate over gun control is not only about the role of firearms in our society, but also becomes an issue of state sovereignty. You may not think that an assault rifle belongs in the home of your neighbor here in Plymouth, but perhaps you would feel differently if you were a rancher, living along Arizona's border with Mexico.

Maybe citizen militias make more sense in some places than others. Advances in media and information technology have brought the world closer together, but we should never assume that we understand someone else's situation better than they do. This is why the federal government is given limited, defined powers; because no central government can effectively micromanage the lives of so many people, living in so many different situations. The concept of federalism gets complicated, when you look at it differently issue to issue.

There are those who champion state's rights on issues like pot decriminalization; but when a state protects the gun rights of its citizens, suddenly we all need to be reminded that federal law trumps state law. This is the politics of the gun control debate. The truth is in places like Chicago, a city that saw more killed by gun violence last year than coalition forces in Afghanistan.

A city with some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. While we debate about assault rifles, the small caliber handgun is the culprit in a vast majority of American gun crimes. Washington will never come for everyone's small caliber handguns........right?

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paulette Kotlinski Longe February 01, 2013 at 02:22 PM
It is interesting how some people want to ban books yet they cannot allow sensible gun laws. We need sensible gun laws. No one is trying to take away guns. The fear of taking away citizens' guns and then having the government come get people is amazing! We need universal background checks and we need laws that hold people accountable for their actions. If a child takes a gun to school and uses it then that parent should be held responsible! Just like your car is registered so should guns. Once again we need common sense gun laws. Peace Out!
Tony Lollio February 01, 2013 at 09:58 PM
You bring up an interesting point, Paulette. "Gun control" is a very broad term, perhaps we should define our terms before we agree or disagree with each other. I won't argue with you about strict background checks and closing gun show loopholes, that at least seems like a reasonable place to begin the dialogue. I do, however, take issue with ambiguous terms like "military style features," that turn up in both the NY SAFE Act, and Sen. Feinstein's bill. Depending on how a court interprets that language, things like detachable sights, threaded barrels could make even small caliber handguns and hunting rifles unavailable. Shotguns with pistol grips or collapsible stocks are now considered assault weapons, even though these modifications have no affect on performance. In other words, a gun is deemed an assault weapon by its appearance, not its performance. Since appearance is a matter of interpretation, this language gives activist judges plenty of opportunity to trample the 2nd Amendment. Oh, and I love the book banning comment, very clever!
Paulette Kotlinski Longe February 01, 2013 at 11:23 PM
It seems that we both agree that words are very powerful. The best we can do is to try and encourage meaningful dialogue about what is sensible gun control/usage/regulation and make living in America a place for our children and grandchildren to live without constant fear. Your acknowledgement for strict background checks and closing gun show loopholes is a common sense way to help improve everyone's lives. By the way, I thought my reference to the book banning was quite clever. It is rare that I have such clever ones so I had to use it:)
Brad Jensen February 06, 2013 at 05:11 PM
So who is doing the regulating of the "well regulated militia"? If we are saying that each individual has the right to "regulate" themselves then I would hate to see what happens when this thinking is applied to traffic regulations. If the founding fathers wanted to give anyone the right to have any weapon anywhere, then why would they have even mentioned a "well regulated militia"? Regulation is clearly within the right of the State.

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