Mississippi’s ‘Constitutional Carry’ Bill Has Nothing to Do with ‘Nullification’

by Charles C. W. Cooke

Providing that the governor plays ball, Mississippi seems set to become a “constitutional carry” state. Per the Tenth Amendment Center, this development was not expected:

Today, the Mississippi House gave final approval to a bill that not only allows unlicensed, “constitutional carry,” but also sets the foundation to reject and end new federal gun control regulations and executive orders.

Originally introduced as a church security bill to allow those with a concealed carry permit to have a firearm in church, House Bill 786 (HB786) was passed in the House by a vote of 85-33. However, when it was sent to the Senate, the scope of the bill was greatly expanded in the Judiciary A Committee.

Specifically, the bill was amended so that the existing “permitless carry” rules will apply to weapons concealed in holsters that are worn on the belt or the shoulder. As it stands, Mississippi does not require its residents to obtain a permit if they carry openly upon their bodies or if they carry concealed within a purse or a bag. If Governor Bryant signs HB786, those exceptions will become the rule, and the state’s permitting system will become obsolete. What a difference a Judiciary Committee makes.

I’ve seen some criticism of the other part of the bill, which seeks to “reject and end new federal gun control regulations and executive orders.” This is wholly misplaced. Here is the proposed language in that section:

No federal executive order, agency order, law not enrolled by the United States Congress and signed by the President of the United States, rule, regulation or administrative interpretation of a law or statute issued, enacted or promulgated after July 1, 2016, that violates the United States Constitution or the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 shall be enforced or ordered to be enforced by any official, agent or employee of this state or a political subdivision thereof.

Pace some of the more hysterical claims I’ve heard, this is not “nullification” or anything close to it. Rather, it is a straightforward application of Printz v. United States, a 1997 Supreme Court case which held that state law enforcement officers may not be compelled to take part in the administration of federal regulations. If Mississippi were attempting to invalidate the federal rules in question in toto — in other words, if the state were deeming those rules null and void and vowing to resist their enforcement by federal agents — it would be in violation of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. But it’s not. It’s merely affirming that no “official, agent or employee of this state or a political subdivision thereof” may be commandeered to enforce those federal rules that the state authorities believe are in violation of “the United States Constitution or the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.”

This, it should be noted, is actually a rather modest expression of the principle protected by Printz. Had Mississippi’s government so wished, it could have drafted this section without any caveats at all, so that the section read simply, “No federal gun control laws shall be enforced or ordered to be enforced by any official, agent or employee of this state or a political subdivision thereof.” That it chose to carefully tailor its rejections is a testament not to the state’s recalcitrance, but to its willingness to work voluntarily with the federal government in those areas in which there is political agreement.

Progressives who are bothered by this might think twice before going on the attack. In this instance, Printz is protecting some outcomes that the Left does not like. But it does not always. Indeed, it is precisely the rule that was affirmed in that case that permits the continuing existence of so-called “sanctuary cities” — those parts of the country in which illegal immigrants are deliberately left alone by local law enforcement. You win some, you lose some; and, in the case of gun control, progressives are more decidedly losing. But there’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. There’s no “nullification” here. There is only settled law.

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