Reason 24/7ReasonIf you want an indicator as to the growing policy divide between the federal government and the residents of many of the states of the union, a good place to look is the growth in state-level laws that overtly defy federal legislation. Constitutional questions remain about states' authority to go their own way on issues including marijuana and guns, and that's likely to be even more true now that Missouri lawmakers prepare to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill that would nullify federal firearms restrictions and toss anybody attempting to enforce them into jail. Even so, it's increasingly clear that much of the American population feels quite differently about many issues than do federal officials. 

From the New York Times:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Unless a handful of wavering Democrats change their minds, the Republican-controlled Missouri legislature is expected to enact a statute next month nullifying all federal gun laws in the state and making it a crime for federal agents to enforce them here. A Missourian arrested under federal firearm statutes would even be able to sue the arresting officer.

The law amounts to the most far-reaching states’ rights endeavor in the country, the far edge of a growing movement known as “nullification” in which a state defies federal power.

The Missouri Republican Party thinks linking guns to nullification works well, said Matt Wills, the party’s director of communications, thanks in part to the push by President Obama for tougher gun laws. “It’s probably one of the best states’ rights issues that the country’s got going right now,” he said.

There's no doubt that much of the state-level defiance of federal law is constitutionally iffy — at least with regard to how the Constitution is currently interpreted. Arresting federal law enforcement officers is probably a bit too anti-imperial to fly in 2013. But legislators climb out on constitutional limbs for locally popular causes, and public opinion can nudge federal policy, eventually. Just today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it won't directly challenge state legalization of medical and recreational marijuana sale and use. That's at least a symbolic backdown, though evidence of a real change will be found, or not, in actual practice.

Missouri's stand against gun restrictions is unlikely to win similar concessions from an administration that just bypassed Congress to unilaterally tighten firearms regulations. Then again, the first medical marijuana law was passed by California voters in 1996, 17 years before today's memo. It takes a long time to get the federal government's attention, so maybe Missouri's nullification efforts will bear similar fruit sometime around 2030.

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