The coming four years of a Trump administration will serve as a valuable reminder why all Americans should be thankful that Washington, D.C. does not determine every policy which affects our lives, and that the United States are in fact 50 separate states, each with their own governments.
Indeed, leftists and Democrats find the prospect of a Trump administration and Republican Congress so disturbing that they have rehabilitated the concept of states’ rights — less than a dead letter, “states’ rights” has long been regarded as a reprehensible “dog-whistle” in Democratic circles — the idea being given serious consideration in no less an august body of leftist thought than the New York Times! Less abstractedly, the California Legislature has decided to put states’ rights into practice by declaring California a sanctuary state.
If the left could make such an abrupt about-face on an issue they have long held in contempt, might the Republicans then do the opposite and jettison states’ rights altogether? It is not inconceivable.
While the Republican Party has been the last bastion of states’ rights on the national level (sorry, Libertarian Party), historically the party has given states’ rights lip service only while continuing to centralize power in the federal government (think No Child Left Behind, the War on Drugs, and the Defense of Marriage Act). Certainly, Trump cannot be expected to have any desire to preserve states’ rights, viewing the US, as he does, as a kind of singular corporate entity, and the President its all-powerful CEO.
The catalyst for this about-face would be the Republicans’ and Donald Trump’s campaign promise to not merely preserve, but expand gun rights in all 50 states. That is the crusade Trump declared in a (surprisingly cogent) written statement, as well as various (markedly less cogent) spoken remarks during and after the campaign. In this he would undoubtedly be supported by the Republicans in Congress, many of whom owe their seats to the Democratic Party’s and Hillary Clinton’s disastrous decision to double-down on gun control.
The pledge to expand gun rights for all Americans is a shot across the bows of the handful of states who persist in ignoring the twin SCOTUS rulings of Heller & McDonald by refusing to issue conceal carry permits and (in an even more egregious violation of both the 2nd and 14th Amendments) refusing to recognize the conceal carry permits issued by other states, going so far as to even arrest those merely transiting the state with an otherwise lawful firearm and an otherwise valid CCW permit.
Ending the unconstitutional gun control regimens in New York, California, and elsewhere is a goal worth pursuing, but it carries with it the risk that the Republicans will revert to old habits. Emboldened by their expansion of gun rights through federal power, they may feel inclined to renew their assaults on their old bugbears: abortion, gay rights, drugs, and other civil liberties, all of which have seen considerable expansion (or at least have been better preserved) at the state level.
If the concept of states’ rights vanishes from the Republican Party, there is a real possibility of federalism vanishing altogether, taking with it the advances made at the state level towards ending the War on Drugs, as well as the additional protections afforded in some states to abortion and gay rights, not to mention a host of other policies currently set by the states: education, paid maternity leave, right-to-work laws vs. collective bargaining rights for unions, and so on.
Trump has already voiced his willingness to manipulate states by threatening to withhold federal funding to those states who would defy federal immigration policy; no doubt Trump would be perfectly willing to do the same when it comes to federal drug policy (if he or his deplorable Attorney General should deem it a priority). Indeed, states are so dependent on federal funding that defying the federal government, be it on drug legalization, gay marriage, immigration, gun rights, or any other policy, may well become impossible, if it isn’t already.
The hard-learned lesson of the 20th century was that rights are not subject to a majority as confirmed by 2014’s Obergefell decision. It is high time that Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights be afforded this same protection from majorities in state legislatures and referendums. However, in expanding gun rights for all Americans, Republicans must avoid giving in to their natural tendencies to be selective about which rights are worth protecting.
Liberty minded conservatives, libertarians, and every Republican who respects the cornerstone on which our republic was founded—federalism—must keep a close eye on this coming push for universal gun rights. While bringing an end to the abominable gun control regimes in California, New York, and elsewhere is an admirable goal, it carries with it the risk of ending federalism in the US altogether and reducing the state governments to little more than especially large county councils.
* Spencer Lane is a recent college graduate from the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK, where he studied military history when he wasn’t traveling. An avid shooter, he is a California native currently living in the Bay Area, but dreams of moving to Idaho or New Hampshire.