Understanding the Preemption Doctrine, Preemption Projects, and How You Can Help

Gun rights organizations such as the Second Amendment Foundation at the national level and the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance at the state level have been in the news recently for their “preemption projects”.   Do you understand what these projects are and why they are important to gun owners?

Many people have heard of the Supremacy Clause (Article VI, clause 2) of the United States Constitution.   The Supremacy Clause states:

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

In a nutshell, the federal preemption doctrine means that a federal law enacted by Congress in pursuance of its constitutionally authorized powers will trump or “preempt” a conflicting state law.  The reason is that certain matters are deemed to be of such a national, as opposed to local, character that federal laws preempt or take precedence over state laws pertaining to those matters.

Similarly, at the state level, preemption occurs when a state law conflicts with a local ordinance on the same subject matter.  In that case, the state law will preempt the local ordinance.  Preemption laws differ amongst the states, so it’s important to know what your specific state’s preemption statute allows.

If a state legislature enacts gun control legislation, and the intent of the legislation is to occupy the field of gun control, then a city is preempted from enacting its own gun control ordinance.  A common violation of state law occurs when a city enacts an ordinance prohibiting firearms in certain locations such as city offices or parks.

A state preemption statute can also define what recourse is available for violations of the state preemption statute.   At least one state, Florida, has a law that punishes local government officials who knowingly and willfully violate the state’s firearms preemption statute.

Second Amendment organizations have been working to educate government officials about the preemption doctrine.  These organizations are making city officials aware of violations of state laws, and asking them to bring their local ordinances in compliance with state law.   Most recently, the Second Amendment Foundation expanded its notification process to Utah, where the organization mailed 49 letters to municipalities within the state.  The Second Amendment Foundation has thus far sent letters to communities in six other states in its effort to remove gun control ordinances that conflict with state law.

The Second Amendment Foundation has not expanded its project to Idaho, but state organizations can get involved in the movement as well.   The Idaho Second Amendment Alliance began its own preemption project this summer, sending many letters to Idaho communities with ordinances in violation of state law.   The effort has been very successful, with most communities responding favorably by changing their ordinances and removing signs prohibiting firearms.

In the latest episode of the Gun Law Podcast, I speak with Miko Tempski, General Counsel for the Second Amendment Foundation and Greg Pruett, President and Founder of the Idaho Second Amendment Alliance about their preemption projects – the successes, the failures, and the potential lawsuits.   My guests provide insight on the process and information on how to contact their organizations to report a violation of a state preemption law and how to support their efforts.