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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Fear as policy

by John Brummett | April 4, 2021 at 9:03 a.m.

State laws or policies calling for federal lawlessness have fared poorly in the United States.

You remember reading about the Civil War. Arkansas and other Southern secessionists shed mountains of blood in a rebellion against our great nation to try to save their evil disgrace of imposing human bondage.

And they lost.

Arkansas tried "interposition" and "nullification" in the 1950s, asserting a sovereign state right to disobey federal court rulings requiring racially integrated schools. A good Republican president--in a different era that allowed a good Republican president--called out federal troops to force Arkansas to obey federal law.

You might think that Arkansas would let those things be a lesson. But it turns out that Arkansas might as well teach creationism in the public schools, as a currently pending bill would provide. There is scant evidence at the ongoing state legislative session that human evolution has much occurred there.

Last week the state Senate voted overwhelmingly, 28 to 7, for a bill saying federal gun laws could be ignored in Arkansas.

The bill says that local law enforcement people acting instantly and unilaterally, rather than courts acting after judicial deliberation and due process, will decide which, if any, federal gun laws they will enforce and which, if any, they will not. It says local law enforcement officials would face penalties for helping federal agents enforce federal gun laws.

If it passes, we might try another bill saying civil rights laws don't apply here, then another saying Arkansas defeated Baylor in the NCAA regional final.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson says his initial impression is that law enforcement officials would have substantial constitutional concerns with this bill. That he wouldn't go ahead and say he's a lawyer and knows the bill to be unconstitutional claptrap is perhaps typical of his aversion to full candor in favor of political calculation.

The Arkansas House can pass this bill if it wants. The governor can veto it he wants. The Legislature can override the veto.

It won't matter. Federal courts would then throw out the law because of the plain Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which Arkansas legislators swore to uphold whether they knew or cared what they were saying.

It turns out that policymaking by fear rather than reason is perilous practice.

A couple of scaredy-cat Republican state senators--Gary Stubblefield and Terry Rice--told colleagues that Arkansas needs to prepare for sovereignty on guns because Joe Biden and the Democrats are apt to do away with the filibuster and stack the Supreme Court to facilitate reducing our defenses in Arkansas to a kitchen knife or a sling blade.

State Sen. Joyce Elliott told me she hopes to sit down with some of these fearful colleagues to try to understand why they seem to believe this absurdity that Democrats will come get their guns.

Biden favors closing loopholes in background-check requirements on gun purchases with exceptions for familial and close-friend transactions. He also would like to restore what Bill Clinton got done in the '90s, which was a ban on new sales of certain semiautomatic assault-style weapons.

In a ban on sales, no one would have to give up the assault-style weapon they already own, presumably for stand-your-ground situations that require wiping out several people quickly over a wide swath.

Biden also would like to limit certain ammunition magazines that facilitate mass murder, which has people speeding to gun stores to buy up ammunition.

Fear is as good for business as it is bad for public policy.

At the moment, the U.S. Senate can't seem to fashion 50 votes for a simple closing of background-check loopholes. And what if it did? It would simply be a reasonable regulation.

I once stood in front of a university continuing-education class and told it I'd had to submit to a background check to be permitted to lead the class, but that I would be perfectly permitted to shoot them all with an assault weapon bought without any background check at a gun show.

Is that what the Arkansas Senate wants to protect by semi-secession?

A U.S. Senate that can't get 50 votes for a simple background check will not be able to get votes for ending the filibuster. One Democrat, West Virginia's Joe Manchin, is dead-set against. Biden, long a devotee of Senate tradition, is averse.

Packing the U.S. Supreme Court seems unlikely unless Democrats make congressional gains and choose to act so unreasonably as to invite Republicans to pack it even more when they get the chance.

Even with the miracle of an assault-weapon ban, mass murderers' existing weapons would be protected until wearing out, probably then to be replaced by hand-held thermonuclear devices, which gun manufacturers would retrofit to mass-produce and the Arkansas Senate would seek to protect in the state by sovereign right.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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