If you have listened to President Obama and Vice President Biden talk about guns in the past month, you have heard them express a decided commitment to use the powers of the federal government to maintain safety in the United States. You also have heard congressional voices from politicians in both parties condemning violence and promising to do something about it. This sounds very caring and inside the wheelhouse of what we hire and pay the federal government to do.
But it is clearly unconstitutional.
When the Founders created the American republic, they did so by inducing constitutional conventions in each of the original 13 states to ratify the new Constitution. The idea they presented, and the thesis accepted by those ratifying conventions, was that the states are sovereign; they derive their powers from the people who live there. The purpose of the Constitution was to create a federal government of limited powers – powers that had been delegated to it by the states. The opening line of the Constitution contains a serious typographical error: "We the People" should read "We the States." As President Ronald Reagan reminded us in his first inaugural address, the states created the federal government and not the other way around.
Notwithstanding the Constitution’s typo, the states delegated only 16 unique, discrete powers to the new federal government, and all of those powers concern nationhood. The Constitution authorizes the feds to regulate in areas of national defense, foreign affairs, keeping interstate commerce regular, establishing a post office, protecting patents and artistic creations, and keeping the nation free. The areas of health, safety, welfare and morality were not delegated to the feds and were retained by the States.