On Monday, the Alaska House of Representatives passed a bill to challenge future gun control measures enacted by the federal government. The bill, known as House Bill 69, passed 31-5 in the 40-member legislative body after a long and emotional debate. The full title of the bill is "An Act exempting certain firearms, firearm accessories, and ammunition in this state from federal regulation; declaring certain federal statutes, regulations, rules, and orders unconstitutional under the Constitution of the United States and unenforceable in this state; providing criminal penalties for federal officials who enforce or attempt to enforce a federal statute, regulation, rule, or order regulating certain firearms and firearm accessories in this state; and providing for an effective date."
Legislative counsel Kathleen Strasbaugh wrote in a Jan. 30 memorandum that the bill will likely be struck down as unconstitutional, because Article VI, Section 2 (known as the Supremacy Clause) of the U.S. Constitution says that federal law trumps state or local law when the two conflict. But the Supremacy Clause only applies if the federal government is acting within its constitutionally granted powers, which most of the members of the Alaska House do not believe will be the case.
With this act, Alaska is following in the footsteps of Wyoming, which passed a law in January that provides misdemeanor penalties to federal agents who attempt to enforce federal gun control laws within the state of Wyoming.
The legal theory behind such acts at the state level is called nullification. The practice of nullification goes back to the time of the Founding Fathers, when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison used it to oppose the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. The attempted nullification of the Tariff of 1828 by South Carolina almost started a civil war in 1832. The Supreme Court has rejected the theory of nullification in the decisions Ableman v. Booth (1859) and Cooper v. Aaron (1958), claiming that under the Constitution, the federal courts have the final power to decide cases arising under the Constitution and federal statutes, that the states do not have the power to overturn federal court decisions, and that the states are bound by the Court's decisions and have to enforce them, even if the states disagree with them.