Tuesday, November 10, 2009

State Sovereignty: A Turf War

The "Firearms Freedom Act" (HB-315) has been introduced into the Ohio House. The substance of the bill:

...to provide that ammunition, firearms, and firearm accessories that are manufactured and remain in in Ohio are not subject to federal laws and regulations derived under Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce and to require the words "Made in Ohio" be stamped on a central metallic part on any firearm manufactured and sold in Ohio.

Firearms Freedom Acts have already passed in Montana and Tennessee, and similar legislation has been introduced in other states. Predictably, the regime in Washington has denounced this state-level assertion of Tenth Amendment restrictions on central government power. So far, neither side has attempted to force the matter. The state politicians lack the confidence (and mass support) to challenge Washington with anything more than speeches and printed words.* The Feds evidently despise the provincial governments too greatly to fear them. But sooner or later, this political stalemate will be broken. The pressure from below will be relentless:

At the time of passage [of the Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act] through the TN House and Senate, Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers had this to say - "Be it the federal government mandating changes in order for the 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 of tired of activist federal officials and judges sticking their noses where they don't belong."

Such paeans to the Constitution might be more or less sincere, but essentially this is a turf war. Federal and state officials were mostly thick as thieves during the boom years. The latter may have resented the former's encroachments on their power, but with everything pumped up on credit, there seemed to be plenty of loot to keep both gangs satisfied. The dual separation of powers conceived by America's founders - between the national and state governments, and among the three branches of the national government itself - has degenerated into a cynical collusion of elites against commoners. Now, with the boom over and the economy contracting, the thieves grumble amongst themselves. The small time bosses see their territories becoming ever poorer under the federal taxes and the currency depreciation. Unlike the big bosses, they cannot print their own money to run endless deficits. They cannot legalize and tax the drug trade. They cannot control their own borders where illegal immigration is a problem. More ominously, state politicos are much closer to their subjects, and therefore would bear the brunt of popular outrage if the depression leads to serious food shortages. They remember the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina, and they understand how limited will be the aid and protection from Washington in the event of a social breakdown.

Texas governor Rick Perry has couched talk of state secession in terms of flattery and reassurance to Washington: "We've got a great Union." But the fictional Lando Calrissian might be closer to the truth in muttering, "This deal's getting worse all the time." The flattery and empty declarations will stop (and enforcement of sovereignty claims will start) when the central government becomes too impoverished to bribe its satraps and too weak to punish them. You can always count on the politicians to look out for themselves first.

* Until the states are able and willing to enforce these laws against Federal usurpers, they are as toothless as the "nuclear free zone" ordinances passed by liberal local governments during the Eighties.

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