What is it about guns, healthcare and marijuana that bring out the antebellum nuttiness in state lawmakers?
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a bill Friday that would have declared virtually every federal gun law invalid and subjected federal agents to state charges for enforcing them. Among other things, the measure would have invalidated federal rules banning the possession of machine guns and silencers, requiring gun dealers to be licensed and mandating a waiting period on gun sales.
But the Republican-dominated state legislature passed the measure, House Bill 436, by more than the two-thirds majority required to override the veto. So it may be just a matter of time before Nixon, a Democrat, finds himself leading the state of "Missuzi."
(Another provision of the law would let people with permits to carry concealed weapons carry openly any firearm less than 16" long. A Mini Uzi extends a mere 14" with its stock folded. Hmmm....)
House Bill 436 is framed as a defense of state residents' 2nd Amendment rights. But citing Article VI of the Constitution and subsequent Supreme Court rules on the supremacy of federal laws, Nixon said the state had no authority to nullify federal gun statutes. His veto message, which notes that the federal courts are the only arbiters of the constitutionality of federal law, is a clear and compelling response to the periodic, and often idiotic, arguments in favor of state nullification.
And yet Missouri appears to be in the mainstream when it comes to passing laws that contravene federal statutes. According to the Associated Press, about 40 states have attempted to nullify federal gun control laws, the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the ban on the sale and possession of marijuana and the 2005 Real ID Act, which was designed to make it harder to make or obtain fraudulent driver's licenses. An undetermined number of states have similarly sought to defy the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which aimed to increase voter registration.
As the AP noted, this phenomenon is not confined to one side of the political spectrum. Liberals feel just as strongly about states' rights when it comes to decriminalizing marijuana and issuing driver's licenses to immigrants who are in the country illegally as conservatives do when it comes to protecting gun ownership, resisting mandatory health insurance and combating voter fraud.
And if state lawmakers really do think the feds are exceeding their enumerated powers and violating the 10th Amendment, picking a fight with the Justice Department is a good way to find out who is right. Still, it's hard to see anything reasonable about House Bill 436, which would allow Missouri residents to sue FBI agents if they're arrested for possessing a sawed-off shotgun, a rocket-propelled grenade launcher or any other federally banned weapon that could be categorized as a "firearm."
One criticism of the bill that actually seemed to give its proponents pause is that it would impinge on free speech. A provision of the bill would make it a crime to publish any identifying information about someone who owns or is licensed to carry a gun. As Nixon pointed out, this presents a 1st Amendment problem and would result in such perverse outcomes as barring newspapers from running pictures of "proud young Missourians who harvest their first turkey or deer."
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Supporters shrugged off the problem, saying lawmakers could fix it in a later session. Yet they seemed to miss the irony inherent in the provision. The point of the prohibition was to protect gun owners from being targeted by thieves, but this fear tacitly acknowledges that having a gun at home doesn't necessarily make a person safer.
By the way, Nixon signed a second, far less sweeping gun-rights bill that allows fire chiefs to carry concealed weapons on the job and permits state employees to keep guns locked and hidden in their cars while on state property. I doubt that those provisions will run afoul of any federal strictures, however.
Follow Jon Healey on Twitter @jcahealey