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Giffords Law Center Gun Law Trendwatch: May 18, 2021

A Roundup and Analysis of the Latest State Firearm Legislation

Gun Lobby Pushes Nullification Laws, Once Used to Defy Desegregation Mandates, to Resist Gun Safety Laws

Every other week during the state legislative cycle, Gun Law Trendwatch breaks down trends in the gun violence prevention universe. We take an in-depth look at a topic of particular interest to legislators and advocates—this week it’s resistance to gun safety through nullification laws—and provide updates on significant gun safety and gun lobby bills as they move through state legislatures.

State of the States

Nullification Laws

For nearly two decades, the gun industry has been encouraging states to resist federal gun laws by passing “nullification” bills that aim to make federal gun laws null and void. Although advocates claim these laws protect Second Amendment rights in the face of federal overreach, this rationale is nothing more than a smokescreen for extremism. Nullification laws and related bills  are also deeply rooted in racism—the strategy was first used in an attempt to avoid desegregation orders

The types of federal laws that nullification bills attempt to invalidate include those that keep guns away from people convicted of domestic violence and other violent crimes, as well as those committed to psychiatric institutions. The Supreme Court has recognized that these and other federal gun laws are consistent with the Second Amendment. Ironically, it is nullification laws that are unconstitutional, not federal gun laws. 

It is up to the judicial branch, not the legislative or executive, to determine the constitutionality and enforceability of laws. The Supremacy Clause to the US Constitution declares that federal law is supreme and states cannot pass laws that stand as obstacles to the accomplishment and execution of a federal law.

In fact, when defendants have been prosecuted for violations of federal laws in states with nullification laws, courts have upheld the convictions, in one case stating, “allowing state legislatures to stop the federal government from prosecuting its laws would upset the balance of powers between states and the federal government and contravene the Supremacy Clause.”

Recently, the gun lobby has begun advancing a new approach: instead of, or in addition to, declaring federal gun laws null and void, these new bills prohibit law enforcement, courts, or other officials from enforcing such laws. The most extreme versions of these bills subject violators to criminal charges, removal from office, or hefty fines. 

The 2021 legislative session has seen a surge of nullification bills. Twenty-nine states have introduced 136 bills, 39 of which would make state law enforcement or officials civilly or criminally liable for enforcing federal gun laws. Less than a week after vetoing one such bill (SB 298), Arkansas’s governor signed HB 1957, which makes elected officials guilty of a misdemeanor for assisting a federal law enforcement agency in enforcing a firearms law. A bill in Missouri (HB 85) would make officials liable for a $50,000 fine for violating the nullification statute. 

It is up to the judicial branch, not the legislative or executive, to determine the constitutionality and enforceability of laws.

In addition to being unconstitutional, these laws are simply terrible policy. They invite people to think, wrongly, that they can violate federal firearms laws without consequence. These laws undermine the legitimacy of the courts by declaring null and void laws that courts have upheld. They jeopardize public safety by intimidating law enforcement who might otherwise involve federal officers in a gun case when justified. 

Nullification bills must be rejected by state lawmakers on behalf of their constituents, who overwhelmingly support evidence-based, effective gun safety measures.

JOIN THE FIGHT

Nearly 40,000 Americans lose their lives to gun violence every year. Giffords Law Center is leading the fight to save lives by championing gun safety policies and holding the gun lobby accountable. Will you join us?

Gun Safety Spotlight

New Colorado Law Will Keep Minors from Getting Guns. Oregon May Follow Suit.

Roughly 4.6 million minors live in homes with loaded, unlocked firearms. Minors who use guns in suicides, unintentional shootings, and school shootings overwhelmingly acquire them from their own home or the home of relatives or friends. Unsurprisingly, the risk of suicide and unintentional shootings by minors is higher in homes where guns are kept loaded and/or unlocked. 

Similarly, unsecured guns in the home are more likely to be stolen. National survey data suggests that approximately 380,000 guns are stolen from individual gun owners each year. And over a recent 10-year period, the number of guns reported stolen from individuals increased by at least 60%.

State 

Colorado

Colorado lawmakers have enacted a number of strong gun safety laws, despite facing reactionary recall petitions, and should keep up the fight to save lives. 

Gun Law Scorecard Grade: C+

In 2021, two states—Oregon and Colorado—have made it a priority to ensure that guns do not fall into the wrong hands. A bill signed into law by Colorado Governor Jared Polis on April 19 requires gun owners to safely store most types of firearms. Owners who violate the law, and know or should know that a person prohibited from gun possession or a minor can access the firearm, are guilty of a misdemeanor.

In Oregon, SB 554 would require gun owners to keep their firearms safely stored and make them civilly liable for any deaths or injuries that occur as a result of the violation. If enacted, this law would make Oregon the second state in the nation after Massachusetts to require gun owners to safely store their firearms under most circumstances. 

Opponents to safe storage laws claim the laws prevent them from accessing their firearms for self-protection in an emergency, but what these laws actually do is require gun owners to keep loaded firearms under their control. What they don’t allow is for gun owners to jeopardize the health and safety of children and the community by being irresponsible with their lethal weapons.

Gun Lobby Extremism

Guns at Polling Places Is Voter Suppression By Another Name

In April, Indiana’s legislature enacted a law that allows voters to bring guns to the polls (HB 1485). Not only will this new law endanger the health and safety of all Indiana voters, it will also disproportionately impact Black Americans and other racial, ethnic, and religious minorities by suppressing their vote.

In response to President Biden’s election victory and Donald Trump’s Big Lie that Biden’s win was illegitimate, states with legislatures controlled by Republicans have advanced an onslaught of bills to limit voting rights, particularly those of Black and other non-white Americans. At the same time, the murders of Ahmaud Arbury, George Floyd, and other unarmed people of color by racist vigilantes and law enforcement have dominated national headlines throughout 2020 and 2021. Given this backdrop, it’s easy to predict the suppressive impact of a law that allows voters to bring guns to the polls. 

Fortunately, some states are proactively ensuring that polls are safe from gun violence and voter intimidation by passing laws prohibiting guns at the polls. Earlier this year, Virginia passed a law (HB 2081) banning guns at the polls, and four additional states—Connecticut, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—have bills pending.  

If Republicans want to win elections, they should do so by enacting policies supported by the overwhelming majority of their constituents, such as universal background checks—not by suppressing the vote of the American people. 

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Bills in Motion

In the first half of 2021, courageous state legislators have introduced bills to strengthen background check requirements, fund proven community violence intervention programs, improve domestic violence prohibitions, and enact or strengthen extreme risk protection order laws in 34 states. Meanwhile, the gun lobby continues to push its dangerous guns in schools and permitless carry bills in dozens of states. We’re committed to helping state legislatures enact laws that will make our communities safer and push back against gun lobby legislation that will bring more guns to more places.

Gun Safety Bills

  • BACKGROUND CHECKS: Legislation to strengthen or enact background checks is pending in at least 23 states.
  • COMMUNITY VIOLENCE: District of Columbia B 127 was enacted 4/27. Colorado HB 1299 passed two committees. Minnesota HB 2127 passed a committee. California AB 1223 has a hearing 5/20. Currently, at least 16 states have bills pending that would allocate or protect funding for evidence-based violence prevention programs.
  • DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: District of Columbia B 181 was enacted 4/27. Colorado HB 1255 passed the house. California SB 538 has a hearing 5/20. Legislation to strengthen domestic violence laws is pending in at least 20 states.
  • EXTREME RISK PROTECTION ORDER: Connecticut HB 6355 passed the house. California AB 1057 passed the assembly and SB 538 has a hearing 5/20. Bills to enact or strengthen extreme risk protection order laws are pending in at least 20 states.

Gun Lobby Bills

  • GUNS IN SCHOOLS: Oklahoma HB 2645 was enacted 5/13. Texas SB 741 passed a house committee, HB 781 passed a senate committee and had a hearing 5/17, SB 838 passed the senate, and HB 2281 passed the house. Tennessee HB 2281 passed the house. Dangerous bills to allow guns in school or on campus are pending in at least 22 states.
  • PERMITLESS CARRY: Texas HB 1927 was sent to concurrence. Louisiana HB 596 passed the house. There are reckless permitless carry bills pending in at least 11 states.
  • STAND YOUR GROUND: New Hampshire HB 197 passed a senate committee. There are Stand Your Ground laws pending in at least 14 states.

HERE TO HELP

Interested in partnering with us to draft, enact, or implement lifesaving gun safety legislation in your community? Our attorneys provide free assistance to lawmakers, public officials, and advocates working toward solutions to the gun violence crisis.

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