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Forget "States' Rights" — States Are Too Big, Too

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05/03/2019

As Justin Murray wrote last month, Washington was one of the first few states to spark a sheriff's revolt against gun control. Now, sheriffs in other states have followed suit by refusing to enforce state gun control. At first glance, this appears to be a national nullification movement in the making.

These moves were in response to I-1639, Washington’s voter-approved measure which enacted background checks, raised the age to buy semi-automatic rifles to 21, established a 10-day waiting period for semi-automatic rifle purchases and mandated gun owners follow state guidelines for storage.

Instead of waiting for the Supreme Court to save them or making a futile attempt to lobby the Washington legislature, counties in rural Washington are taking things into their own hands. Additionally, certain activists are floating the idea of creating the new state of “ Liberty ” by splitting the state in two. Other counties in Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, and New Mexico, have followed suit with their own pro-gun resolutions.

Is Nullification the Way to Go?

Before President Trump was elected, there was a ton of hype behind his presidency being potentially the most pro-gun ever . Establishment gun lobbies were already talking about the prospect of licensed carry reciprocity at the national level and a potential de-regulation of firearms accessories, like suppressors .

Presently, the Trump administration has been a disappointment on guns so far. Some of the largest gun control measures since the Brady Act — Fix NICS and the Justice Department’s bump stock ban — were passed under a supposedly “pro-gun” president’s watch. Further, Trump’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has topped the Obama administration’s war on private guns. So much for a “pro-gun” presidency.

Especially after the failure to pass a misguided national reciprocity bill, gun owners in anti-gun states are starting to recognize that the neither their state or federal governments are going to save them.

Why There’s Something to Fighting Gun Control Locally

The recent movement of rural counties standing up to state legislatures is an acknowledgment of new political and cultural realities in America. The divide between rural America and its suburban and urban counterparts is becoming pronounced, especially in regard to gun rights.

To put it in perspective, a 2017 Pew Research Center poll shows that 63 percent of rural dwellers support gun rights, whereas 47 percent in suburban areas and 37 percent in urban areas, support gun control. This is a marked contrast from 2008 where rural support stood at 46 percent, suburban at 39 percent, and urban support hovered around 32 percent.

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These numbers indicate there are opportunities for advancing gun legislation – above all gun control nullification – in rural areas. In fact, the Constitutional Carry movement, has largely seen some of the least urbanized states in the country embrace these laws. The only exceptions to this rule are Arizona and Missouri.

The Benefits of Localism

Historically, the movement away from locally-based taxation has been problematic. Gary North explains:

The replacement of the county tax by state income taxes and federal income taxes inescapably transferred power away from the citizens to central governments and the permanent bureaucracies that have been established at the state and federal level ever since the 1880's. For as long as these central governments are able to collect money from individuals directly, they will constitute a threat to liberty.

This trend of centralization was a hallmark of the Progressive Era and has been maintained up until the present. It is putting the federal government on the road to fiscal collapse, while also encouraging the government to micromanage all facets of human behavior, which include gun rights.

Indeed, many states have replicated policies like the federal government’s income tax and gun control. However, change has to start somewhere and it sure won’t come from the federal government. Following successful efforts to nullify federal drug laws against marijuana, and considering that both left (California secessionists) and right (Texas secessionists) continue to promote the idea, more opportunities have opened up for separatist discussions.

Separatist movements in Europe, from Scotland to Brexit to Catalonia have expanded the issue as well.


Many of these efforts have little to do with gun control, but there is nothing special about gun rights and its relationship with decentralization. This same strategy can likely be replicated with other issues such as business regulation, taxation, and drug law enforcement.

By doing so, we can create a culture that emphasizes a localist approach to public policy problems. In the end, radical decentralization is what will lead us towards a more de-politicized and freer world.

José Niño is a Venezuelan-American freelance writer.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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