Nearly two centuries ago, President Andrew Jackson wrote, "I consider, then, the power to annul a law of the United States, assumed by one state, incompatible with the existence of the Union, contradicted expressly by the letter of the Constitution, unauthorized by its spirit, inconsistent with every principle on which it was founded, and destructive of the great object for which it was formed."
In the 21st century, misguided individuals and municipalities are seeking to revive the doctrine of nullification in an effort to resist or reject proposed federal gun violence prevention measures. Ironically, many gun rights advocates seek to hijack the legacy of civil disobedience bequeathed to our nation by champions of peace such as Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr.
The United States Supreme Court rejected nullification in the 1958 Cooper v. Aaron case, which dealt with
efforts to resist school integration in Arkansas. The court, in an opinion signed by all nine justices, ruled that federal integration efforts "can neither be nullified openly and directly by state legislators or state executive or judicial officers nor nullified indirectly by them through evasive schemes for segregation whether attempted 'ingeniously or ingenuously.'" Put simply, states may not nullify federal law.
The urgent need for genuine dialogue on the issues of gun safety and gun violence prevention is inescapable after the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The passing of useless resolutions defying the federal government will not make one child safer, nor will it lead to safer streets or safer schools.
Whatever the answers may be to the tragic problem of gun violence in America, nullification is not one of them. We will only create solutions for this lethal crisis through courage, commitment, and cooperation.
John Deppen, Northumberland