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It comes as no surprise former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris are campaigning on promises “to end our gun-violence epidemic.” The leftward drift of the Democratic Party on most policy questions, including lawful firearm ownership, has been made explicit in its 2020 party platform. The presidential nominee’s campaign “issues page” takes it several steps further, promising to pass or incentivize all manner of gun restrictions.
In addition to the lack of evidence supporting these initiatives and their dubious constitutionality they all share one principal problem: The federal government — the helm of which Joe Biden seeks to occupy — has very little authority in this domain. In order to accomplish these policy aims, state and local law-enforcement agencies would need to be pressed into service.
Biden has already had his wrist slapped in this regard. His website touts his “shepherding” of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, a bill most known for the again-promised “assault-weapons ban.” The ban later expired in 2004, with rates of firearm violence actually trending lower after its expiration than during its effect.
Among other provisions, the bill also required that local chief law enforcement officers (CLEOs) perform background checks on prospective firearm purchasers. Jay Printz, sheriff of Ravalli County, Mont., brought suit against the United States, stating that the federal government had no authority to compel state and local officials to execute federal law. In Printz v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, holding that despite the increasingly expansive interpretation of the “necessary and proper” clause, Congress cannot enjoin state officials to do its bidding. As a result, the mandate was subsequently ejected from the Brady Bill.
Harris’s understanding of the Second Amendment within our system of federalism is even more stunted. As the attorney general of California, she signed on to an amicus brief claiming that governments have complete authority to wholly ban handguns — an assertion that has been repeatedly rejected by courts and historians alike. During her presidential run in 2019, she promised to enact her preferred elements of gun control via executive orders, none of which were within the realm of executive control. Paradoxically, she is seeking to leave the one body that could enact substantive reform without so much as ceremonially filing legislation to do what she is promising.
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