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Gun law nullification efforts fade as specter of federal gun laws retreats

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Photo credit: Flickr user Fibonacci Blue

The year 2013 saw a burst of legislative action on firearms as mass shootings, gun-centered recall elections and big political spending thrust the gun debate to the fore of the political stage. In September, Sunlight reported on the flurry of state bills aimed at nullifying federal gun regulations. They were all introduced after the Sandy Hook massacre spurred another push for stricter gun control. One year after  Sandy Hook, Sunlight finds efforts to nullify federal gun control laws have faded along with the prospects that any new ones will pass.

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The flood of nullification bills witnessed at the beginning of the year has sputtered out: Since publication of our original piece, just one new bill aimed at overriding federal gun restrictions has been introduced (Ohio House Bill 340), and the majority of those that were awaiting a vote remain in legislative limbo. The tapering off of the 'nullification movement' may signal that Second Amendment defenders no longer see the threat of stricter gun control on the horizon.

Although legal experts have contended that such bills are likely more symbol than substance, that did not stop the surge of new legislation. In total, Sunlight's analysis of bills from our Open States tool found that a total of 136 similar firearms bills had been sponsored in 40 states.

Bills like Missouri's House Bill 436 pushed back against proposed federal regulations citing a breach of the Constitution: "Whenever the federal government assumes powers that the people did not grant it in the Constitution, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force." Although the Show Me State's attempt at federal circumvention was ultimately vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, a similar bill from Kansas was successful thanks in part to support from Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican. While U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder subsequently threatened the state with judicial action, the law remains on the books and was even floated at the Council of State Governments as the potential blueprint legislation for future state efforts — though this effort ultimately failed.

Although the NRA remained largely silent on the nullification issue, groups like the Tenth Amendment Center applauded the wave of nullification bills as a state response to federal overreach.

All but six of the bills were introduced in the four months immediately following the shooting at Sandy Hook. None of the bills that were 'pending' at the time of the September story have passed, though a few officially failed. The vast majority have received little legislative attention in months and are likely doomed from inactivity at the legislature's adjournment.

The one new nullification bill introduced since our last story was sponsored sponsored by state Rep. John Becker, R-Ohio.