A serious political confrontation is brewing in the state of Virginia, and it has national ramifications. The Democrat governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, has stated his intention to confiscate entire classes of firearms currently in the ownership of Virginia citizens, even though those firearms have been legally purchased and owned. Since such a measure would obviously involve the use of state tax dollars, it would result in many citizens paying their tax money to the state so it can confiscate the taxpayers’ own guns (first link). The state’s attorney-general, also a Democrat, has warned Virginia citizens not to resist gun-confiscation efforts by the Democrat-controlled state government (second link). However, the resistance has already begun, and it is spreading to other states as well in anticipation of other state governments attempting the same kid of gun-grab.
Governor Northam reportedly even has plans to call out the National Guard to forcibly confiscate guns from Virginia citizens. This has created a firestorm of resistance throughout the state of Virginia. The third link and fourth link detail how rapidly citizens and local governmental officials have mobilized to resist the governor’s intended actions. Many jurisdictions have declared themselves to be “Second Amendment Sanctuary” jurisdictions. The vast majority of Virginia’s counties have joined this resistance movement. At last count, 76 of Virginia’s 95 counties have declared themselves to be Second Amendment Sanctuaries, as have nine of Virginia’s independent cities (I’m not sure about the legal definition of an “independent city” in Virginia), and 13 towns. The state’s county governments and county sheriffs are overwhelmingly opposed to Governor Northam’s gun-confiscation efforts. Some sheriffs are threatening to “deputize” thousands of private citizens to forcibly resist any such gun-confiscation efforts by the state. Other Virginia counties are creating armed militias to do the same thing. As the links note, these militias are not right-wing, backwoods types, they include military veterans and law-enforcement personnel in their ranks. The links note that other states are joining their effort, and governmental jurisdictions in nine states have now declared themselves to have “Second Amendment Sanctuary” status. The states are Illinois, Washington, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, New Jersey, Florida and Tennessee. Notice this includes both red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) states. In the blue states, I assume it is rural county governments that are taking this action.
The tempest has gotten so strong in Virginia that the head of the Virginia National Guard had to issue a statement about the issue, which was worded so vaguely that it was non-committal (fifth link) about whether the Virginia National Guard would support Governor Northam or the county governments. It is worth noting that this statement included no ringing endorsement of the Governor’s intended use of the National Guard. Obviously, National Guard members are private citizens in their regular lives, so many of them likely own the very types of guns that the governor wants to confiscate. Will National Guard personnel consent to confiscating their own weapons from their own houses and turning them over to the radical leftist governor of the state? Not all of them will do so. One National Guard member has issued a statement that he/she will not implement the governor’s desired gun confiscation (if such a bill is enacted by the Democrat state legislature in 2020) and urges other National Guard personnel to decline to enforce it as well (sixth link). Will the governor of Virginia force the National Guard into a situation where its members are “at war” with each other? Now for some critical analysis of this serious situation.
Initially, allow me to say the Virginia governor and attorney-general need to read the US Constitution before they do something they will come to deeply regret. The Second Amendment to the Constitution clearly forbids them to take such action. Owning firearms is a constitutional right for every American citizen, and no state government can repeal or take away a federal Constitutional right. All states in the Federal Union must obey the U.S. Constitution. Attempting to “infringe” on gun-owners’ rights in such an extensive manner would put Virginia’s state government in a state of defiance (or “insurrection”) against the U.S. Constitution and federal government. Virginia is literally on the door-step of the federal government in Washington, DC. President Trump is solidly committed to preserving the Second Amendment and has taken an oath to defend and protect the U.S. Constitution. President Trump is surely watching this situation very closely.
If Virginia decides to attack the federal Constitutional right of American citizens in Virginia to own firearms, two possibilities come to mind. President Trump could declare a state of emergency in Virginia and federalize the Virginia National Guard, placing it under presidential control instead of the governor’s control. Another possibility is that President Trump could send in federal troops to put down such an insurrection by the governor of Virginia and the Virginia National Guard if it supports the governor. Do you think such a thing is impossible? It has already happened in US history, and Governor Northam may cause a second such occurrence. In 1957, Democrat governor, Orval Faubus, refused to obey a new federal law about school desegregation and he called out the Arkansas National Guard initially to resist federal law. After a period of confusion, President Eisenhower federalized the Arkansas National Guard and also sent in 1,000 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas to compel Governor Faubus and his state government to obey federal law (seventh link).
Governor Northam could soon face the same situation if he actually attempts to void a federal Constitutional right of American citizens living in Virginia. Trump would actually have a stronger right to send troops to Virginia than Eisenhower had to send troops to Arkansas. Eisenhower was enforcing a congressional law and a court ruling, but Trump would be acting in defense of the U.S. Constitution itself, which carries more legal weight than Congressional acts (which potentially can be overturned by federal courts). The bottom line is that Governor Northam and his fellow leftist Democrats in the Virginia Legislature have no hope of winning this confrontation if Trump is willing to exercise his right to “send in the troops” to defend the U.S. Constitution and suppress a state’s “insurrection” against its provisions (see Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution). Instances of U.S. presidents sending military forces (or nationalizing National Guard troops) to restore/preserve civil order or enforce federal laws in American states and cities are not as unusual as one might think. The eighth link lists a number of such interventions, ordered by Presidents Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George H.W. Bush.
There is another Constitutional reason why Governor Northam’s gun-confiscation plan would likely not pass Constitutional muster. Courts have long recognized and enforced the “Interstate Commerce Clause” of the U.S. Constitution (same Article and Section as cited above) which forbids states to regulate interstate commerce. Sales of virtually every type of product and service in America now involve “interstate commerce.” When the Constitution was adopted in the late 18th century, many products and services were sold and used on a solely intrastate basis, but that situation would be hard to find now. Firearms are like any modern product–they are manufactured, marketed, sold and delivered via the mechanisms of “interstate commerce.” Therefore, as items involved in interstate commerce, they enjoy protection from regulatory interference by the individual states. I’m sure pro-Second Amendment lawyers will point out the above Constitutional points to any court that considers legal issues arising from any gun-confiscation legislation that may emerge in Virginia to challenge the U.S. Constitution.
If Virginia’s Democrat government is reckless enough to defy the U.S. Constitution in two ways, I expect federal courts will issue an injunction to block the enforcement of his anti-Constitutional statutes until the case works its way to the US Supreme Court. Consider also that it is an election year in the USA in 2020. President Trump would galvanize his Second Amendment supporters to a breathtaking degree if Virginia forces him to “send in the troops” to protect Americans’ gun-ownership rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, and it would reveal to all just how dangerous the far-left has become in modern American politics.
Ironically, it is the Left’s “sanctuary city” or “sanctuary state” movement that has given rise to the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” movement. However, while the leftist “sanctuary city” movement has no Constitutional basis on which to base their actions (illegal residents have no Constitutional right to protections afforded to US citizens), the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement is solidly rooted in a specific Constitutional right. Hopefully, Governor Northam’s reckless idea is merely a “trial balloon” to please the leftist base, and that it will be defeated in the Virginia legislature. If it does pass, a Constitutional crisis will occur because the federal government does have the right to use force to enforce the U.S. Constitution.
We live in very unusual and increasingly dangerous times. There is one other possibility. The state of Virginia has already divided once before into two states, so there is precedent for it doing so again. As the US Civil War began, the state of Virginia seceded from the Union. The pro-Union northwestern counties “seceded” from the state of Virginia to stay in the Union, and they formed the modern state of West Virginia. Since 76 of Virginia’s 95 counties have already declared themselves to be Second Amendment Sanctuary counties, that leaves only 19 counties potentially loyal to Governor Northam. These 76 counties could potentially seek to form a new state that is loyal to the Constitution if the Democrats controlling the state government rebel against our nation’s founding document. However, this is an unlikely outcome as the U.S. Constitution sets a very high bar for the division of a state into two or more new states.
This is a very serious issue. The bottom line is that Governor Northam and his Democrats in the legislature have no Constitutional authority to implement such widespread gun-confiscation plans. The counties that want their citizens to keep their legally-purchased and owned firearms are on solid Constitutional ground. If Governor Northam tries to implement a mass seizure of firearms from Virginia citizens, he will place his government in what the U.S. Constitution defines as a state of “insurrection,” giving President Trump the same right to intervene militarily in Virginia the way President Eisenhower did in Arkansas. This situation needs to be watched closely.
As a footnote to this post, a mass shooting in a church in Texas was just prevented by an armed parishioner who killed the attacker almost as soon as he opened fire, greatly minimizing the loss of life (ninth link). If an armed private citizen had not been there, the death toll would have been very large. This incident highlights how important the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution really is to all Americans. It could literally save your life someday.
My thanks to a reader who sent me one of these links.