Gunning for trouble

Pete Stroud

On Tuesday, Jan. 15, five state representatives filed a bill, HB 553, that openly flouts the authority of the federal government, declares any federal regulation of gun availability to be unconstitutional and proposes to prosecute any police officer or state official who attempts to enforce those federal regulations.

The five Republican state representatives — John Otto, Jim Pitts, Jimmie Aycock, Drew Darby and Tony Dale — are attempting to pass legislation asserting that their authority over Texas supersedes that of the federal government. That is expressly prohibited by the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which declares that federal laws, whether acts of Congress or executive orders, are the “supreme law of the land.” According to UT law professor Sanford Levinson, HB 553 is “idiotic … because states have no authority to invalidate federal law. Simple as that. End of discussion.”

If the Legislature did end up passing this, Levinson says, “[The federal government] would laugh out loud and say it has no consequence, no operative authority whatsoever. And if anybody was stupid enough to disobey a relevant federal law and say ‘well, the Texas Legislature says I don’t have to,’ then that person might very well be prosecuted.”

Never mind that the bill, which the authors have dubbed “The Second Amendment Preservation Act,” disregards portions of that  particular amendment to suit their own purposes. In case the readers need reminding, the text of the bill helpfully includes the Second Amendment in its entirety: “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.”

But it seems the authors of HB 553 neglected to read the first half of that succinct constitutional mandate. The Second Amendment clearly states its intention to facilitate the sort of state-sanctioned, well-regulated militias of soldiers that contributed to the American victory in the Revolutionary War. The modern equivalent to that force is more commonly known as the National Guard, and the government does not infringe on the right of those citizen soldiers to bear arms in the defense of the “security of the free state.”

Instead, the five state representatives who wrote HB 553 interpret the amendment as a sweeping endorsement of the most extreme, far-right philosophy of gun availability: that any private citizen can carry any kind of weapon he or she wants, no matter how dangerous, with no regulation or oversight of any kind. They even say as much:

“Resolved … that all federal acts, laws, executive orders, agency orders, and rules or regulations of all kinds with the purpose, intent or effect of confiscating any firearm, banning any firearm, limiting the size of a magazine for any firearm, imposing any limit on the ammunition that may be purchased for any firearm, taxing any firearm or ammunition therefore or requiring the registration of any firearm or ammunition therefore, infringes upon Texan’s [sic] right to bear arms in direct violation of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”

The representatives’ reasoning is unfounded. After decades of court precedent, Levinson says, “there is really no serious argument that any of the federal laws involving guns are unconstitutional.” “Well-regulated” isn’t a complicated phrase.

Introduced on the same day President Barack Obama announced his plan for national gun control, this bill was and remains a cheap political stunt. So far, similar bills have been filed by Republican representatives in at least one other state legislature, suggesting that it’s more of a national GOP publicity and fundraising move rather than a brave stand for liberty. 

Gov. Rick Perry has a history of signing similar legislation aimed at making a political gesture rather than policy. In 2011 he signed a bill that purported to nullify an uncontroversial national regulation phasing out inefficient incandescent light bulbs and talked a big game about state nullification of Obamacare. If the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” gets through the Legislature and across Perry’s desk, it wouldn’t be the first time far-right conservatives in the Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion made a national laughingstock out of our state.

It’s disappointing that, just one week into the 83rd Legislative Session, we’ve already witnessed elected officials performing radically ideological publicity stunts disguised as fulfilling their prescribed duties.

Stroud is an international relations and global studies sophomore from San Antonio.