Gun Control Facts: The Commerce Clause Makes Gun Control a State Question


As President Obama weighs using an executive order to enact gun control, the question of constitutionality has erupted. The Constitution lays out a specified power structure of the federal government and its relationship to the powers of states. As a result, debates often spark regarding whether something is a state’s right issue or instead under the power of the federal government. The gun rights and gun control issue has become a hot topic in relation to the Constitution. The Constitution protects the rights of private citizens to bear arms, but is the regulation of these arms a state or federal issue? Under the structure of powers within the Constitution, the regulation of gun sales should be left to the states with the federal government maintaining its role of regulating interstate commerce.

The New York Times takes up this issue with an article discussing the potential gun laws which could happen this year. Colorado has been home to two of the worst gun massacres in recent memory (Columbine and Aurora) and could serve as a crucial state in the gun control fight. The article looks at the climate in Colorado and state legislatures across the country who are wrestling with the issue. In Wyoming, they are considering a measure that would block any new federal regulation, putting the state versus federal rights squarely in the cross-hairs.

The Constitution protects the right to bear arms, but what is mostly being discussed is not the right to bear arms, rather the access to those arms. As both state and federal governments look to regulate the selling of firearms, both will look to the Constitution to support whose right it actually is. Since the regulation of firearm sales are the base of the discussions, they both may look at the Commerce Clause within the Constitution. This clause gives the federal government the right to regulate interstate commerce, but maintains the states right to regulate commerce within its borders. This is the same system which brought the national highway system. Under this clause, states can make the argument that regulating the sale of firearms within their borders is the right of the state under the Constitution.

Both state and federal governments will continue to look to regulate the sale of firearms. They both will attempt to use the Constitution as a basis for their right to regulate this industry. However, when we look at the Commerce Clause of the Constitution it appears that the right to regulate commerce within their borders makes this a state’s rights issue. The role of the federal government is to regulate interstate commerce, and therefore should leave the gun control debate to the states and focus their efforts on the interstate sales of this industry.