“John Brown was a hero
undauted, true and brave
Kansas knew his valor
When he fought her rights to save.”
John’s Brown Body
On April 16th, the governor of Kansas signed Senate Bill 102 – perhaps the most libertarian piece of legislation I’ve seen in my life. The new Second Amendment Protection Act exempts Kansan firearms from “any federal law, regulation, or authority.” Not just particularly repressive federal laws, mind you. Any federal law.
Should a federal agent try to impose a national gun law on Kansas gun owners, he will be charged with violating the statute. If found guilty, he may be arrested by Kansas law enforcement. In my home state, transgressing the Second Amendment is now a felony offense.
Unfortunately, not everyone found this news as delightful as I did. Two weeks after Governor Sam Brownback signed SB 102, a less pleasant document found its way to the governor’s desk: an angry letter from Eric Holder.
The reliably creepy attorney general proclaimed “S.B. 102 directly conflicts with federal law and is therefore unconstitutional.” Holder threatened to “take all appropriate action, including litigation if necessary, to prevent the State of Kansas from interfering with the activities of federal officials enforcing federal law.”
Kansas, however, took up the attorney general’s Orwellian gauntlet. On May 2nd, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach informed the attorney general that we’re not in New York anymore, rather brazenly calling Eric Holder a hypocrite and a criminal and writing “With respect to any litigation, we will happily meet Mr. Holder in court.” Governor Brownback also made a statement, adding “The people of Kansas have clearly expressed their sovereign will.”
Although this defiance has given me an exceptional pride in my state, it’s part of a long tradition of Kansan resistance to tyranny. In 1850, the Fugitive Slave Act ordered free states to capture escaped slaves and extradite them back to the south. The act inspired a rising abolitionist named John Brown to form the League of Gileadites – an anti-slavery militia that fought back against government-sanctioned slave catchers. It was in Kansas that Brown’s insurrection finally and famously came to a head.
If you imagine that I’m trivializing slavery by comparing it to gun control, consider the function of gun rights. Every freedom imaginable, including the right to control your own body, is entirely conditional upon the right to defend it. Depriving someone of arms is uniquely unjust: it constitutes a blank check on any other evil to which an armed – or otherwise physically stronger – person might wish to subject you.
Holder’s letter, moreover, very clearly says “S.B. 102 directly conflicts with federal law and is therefore unconstitutional.” If this is true, statues like Ohio’s 1857 Act to Prevent Kidnapping – used by some states to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act – were no less unconstitutional. Doubtless this was the argument used by Holder’s counterpart in the 1850s. I’m no constitutional scholar, but even if Holder were correct, that would only mean we ought to throw out the constitution entirely.
Yet the attorney general has at least one friend in Kansas. Yael Abouhalkah – one of the Kansas City Star’s lockstep slew of scribblers – recently boasted that Kansas police would not dare to actually arrest a federal agent. I’m sure that’s true in the two or three counties of Kansas that Abouhalkah has ever set foot in. But, as Abouhalkah himself points out:
Unless, of course, a Kansas law enforcement official actually takes the law seriously and tries to arrest a federal agent. Then all hell will break loose.
Abouhalkahh should have realized that this aside cancels out the premise of his column. On this final point, he’s essentially correct: for Kansas, securing the right to self-defense will require only that one Kansan officer take a stand for it. If that happens, it will be imperative that advocates of liberty around the country stand with the Sunflower State.
I’ve recently seen a number of libertarians point to Colorado’s and Washington’s legalizations of marijuana as modern libertarianism’s most promising front. While marijuana laws are a critical issue, I’d advise these libertarians not to ignore the Midwest so readily. The fundamental importance of gun rights aside, I’ve yet to see Colorado or Washington threaten to arrest federal agents who contravene their “sovereign will.”
Like the recent Republican filibuster of Brennan’s nomination, Kansas’ Second Amendment Protection Act – and the widespread support it garnered in Topeka – point to the liberty movement’s most promising path to victory: focusing on those with whom we have the most basic overlap.