A line was drawn in the sand last week – a response by the Federal Government to the State of Tennessee and their assertion of sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution.
(Editor’s note: A similar response was sent to Montana Firearms licenses on 07-16-09 as well)
Part of a series of moves by states seeking to utilize the Tenth Amendment as a limit on Federal Power, the Tennessee State Senate approved Senate Bill 1610 (SB1610), the Tennesse Firearms Freedom Act, by a vote of 22-7. The House companion bill, HB1796 previously passed the House by a vote of 87-1.
Governor Breseden allowed the bill to become law without signing.
The law states that “federal laws and regulations do not apply to personal firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition that is manufactured in Tennessee and remains in Tennessee. The limitation on federal law and regulation stated in this bill applies to a firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured using basic materials and that can be manufactured without the inclusion of any significant parts imported into this state.”
At the time of passage through the TN House and Senate, Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers had this to say-
“Be it the federal government mandating changes in order for states to receive federal funds or the federal government telling us how to regulate commerce contained completely within this state – enough is enough. Our founders fought too hard to ensure states’ sovereignty and I am sick and tired of activist federal officials and judges sticking their noses where they don’t belong.”
The Federal Government, by way of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms expressed its own view of the Tenth Amendment this week when it issued an open letter to ‘all Tennessee Federal Firearms Licensees’ in which it denounced the opinion of Beavers and the Tennessee legislature. ATF assistant director Carson W. Carroll wrote that ‘Federal law supersedes the Act’, and thus the ATF considers it meaningless.
Constitutional historian Kevin R.C. Gutzman sees this as something far removed from the founders’ vision of constitutional government:
“The letter says, in part, ‘because the Act conflicts with Federal firearms laws and regulations, Federal law supersedes the Act, and all provisions of the Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act, and their corresponding regulations, continue to apply.’ That is precisely what I predicted the Federal Government’s response to the Tennessee act would be. As I told Judge Andrew Napolitano on Fox News’s Glenn Beck Program on June 5, 2009, federal officials don’t care about a good historical argument concerning the meaning of the Constitution.”
“Their view is that the states exist for the administrative convenience of the Federal Government, and so of course any conflict between state and federal policy must be resolved in favor of the latter.”
“This is another way of saying that the Tenth Amendment is not binding on the Federal Government. Of course, that amounts to saying that federal officials have decided to ignore the Constitution when it doesn’t suit them.”
The Federal Government has regularly claimed that the commerce clause of the constitution, which gives DC authority to regulate commerce between the states, gives them authority to regulate or add prohibitions on items that never cross state lines.
One notable use of the commerce clause in this manner can be found in the 2005 decision by the Supreme Court in ‘Gonzales vs. Raich’, where the court contended that consuming one’s locally grown marijuana for medical purposes affects the interstate market of marijuana, and hence that the federal government may regulate—and prohibit—such consumption. They used this claim, even though at the same time they made it clear that no legal market for marijuana exists.
One key aspect of the ATF’s letter is that it was only sent out to existing Federal Firearms Licensees, those generally already in compliance with federal regulations – and who likely would not have participated in the TN Firearms Freedom act anyway, according to sources close to Tenth Amendment Center.
Ultimately what the letter represents is another move in the chess match being played out between the states and the Federal Government, the resolution of which may not be seen for quite some time.
Below is the full text of the letter sent last week by the ATF:
“U.S. Department of Justice
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives
OPEN LETTER TO ALL TENNESSEE
FEDERAL FIREARMS LICENSEES
The purpose of this letter is to provide guidance on your obligations as a Federal firearms licensee (”FFL”). The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (”ATF”) is dedicated to your success in meeting your requirements as a Federal firearms licensee. The following guidance is intended to assist you in accomplishing this goal.
The passage of the Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act, H.B. 1796, 106th Leg. (Tenn. 2009) 1796 (”Act”), effective June 19, 2009, has generated questions from industry members as to how this State law may affect them while engaged in a firearms business activity. The Act purports to exempt personal firearms, firearms accessories, and ammunition manufactured in the State, and which remain in the State, from most Federal firearms laws and regulations. However, because the Act conflicts with Federal firearms laws and regulations, Federal law supersedes the Act, and all provisions of the Gun Control Act and the National Firearms Act, and their corresponding regulations, continue to apply.
As you may know, Federal law requires a license to engage in the business of manufacturing firearms or ammunition, or to deal in firearms, even if the firearms or ammunition remain within the same state. All firearms manufactured by a licensee must be properly marked. Additionally, each licensee must record the type, model, caliber or gauge, and serial number of each firearm manufactured or otherwise acquired, and the date such manufacture or other acquisition was made. The information required must be recorded in the licensee’s records not later than the seventh day following the date such manufacture or other acquisition was made. Firearms transaction records and NICS background checks must be conducted prior to disposition of firearms to unlicensed persons. These, as well as other Federal requirements and prohibitions, apply whether or not the firearms or ammunition have crossed state lines.
If you have any questions regarding the Federal firearms laws and regulations, please contact your local ATF office. ATF works closely with the firearms industry and appreciates the important role the industry plays in combating violent crime. A listing of ATF office phone numbers can be found at http://www.atf.gov/contact/field.htm. Carson W. Carroll, Assistant Director (Enforcement Programs and Services)”