Be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.
Good and hard.
Remember the sanctuary city movement, the strategy the Resistance (or the Democratic Party as we used to call it) deployed against Trump’s campaign against illegal immigration? The idea was, and is, to get local governments to declare that they won’t cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) efforts to arrest and deport people who were in the country illegally.
It seemed like a great idea at the time. Hundreds of cities, towns, counties, school districts and even a couple of states signed on (including Boulder, natch), making it that much harder for the feds to detain illegal aliens.
The idea of “sanctuary cities” and “cities of refuge” is centuries old and comes with a lot of historical and religious trappings which lend it legitimacy. A lot of progressives will tell you that Jesus would have approved. Him and Sol Alinsky.
And John C. Calhoun.
Especially John C. Calhoun, the slave-owning dead white guy from South Carolina whose political pedigree included vice president to two presidents (John Qunicy Adams and Andrew Jackson), U.S. senator from South Carolina, congressman, secretary of state and secretary of war.
Calhoun is the guy who really would have grokked the sanctuary city movement. That’s because his most important contribution to American political thought was the doctrine of “nullification,” which held that states could refuse to enforce federal laws they didn’t approve of within their borders.
Which is essentially what self-declared sanctuary cities are doing — nullifying federal law they don’t like within their borders.
(The South Carolina legislature actually tried nullification in 1832, when it declared federal tariff laws passed in 1828 and 1832 — known in South Carolina and most of the South as the “tariffs of abomination” — were unconstitutional and unenforceable in the state. It repealed the act of nullification the following year after then-President Andrew Jackson sailed a naval squadron into Charleston Harbor and threatened to hang the nullifiers — while agreeing to some modifications to the tariff. And a good thing they did too; South Carolina had already armed and placed on alert 2,000 mounted “minutemen” and 25,000 militiamen. If the South Carolinians hadn’t blinked, the Civil War could have broken out in 1833 instead of 1861.)
Back to the sanctuary cities movement. Progressives weren’t the only ones who liked the concept. Second Amendment advocates saw the possibilities as well. And when states like Colorado started passing new, more restrictive gun control laws — like Colorado’s “red flag” law and ban on large magazines for semi-automatic weapons — rural counties and small towns started declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries.
Judging by a continually updated map accompanying the Wikipedia entry on Second Amendment sanctuary, the idea is spreading like wildfire. Large swaths of Colorado, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Illinois and Virginia, as are the entire states of Kansas, Wyoming, Idaho and Alaska have been declared Second Amendment sanctuaries. Ditto for a number of counties in Texas and Florida, and a smattering in eight other states.
So far the national media haven’t taken this movement very seriously, but it has the feel of a ticking time bomb. And the place where it’s ticking loudest is Virginia.
According to the Wikipedia Second Amendment sanctuary entry, 87 out of 95 Virginia counties, 11 out of its 38 independent cities, and 20 of its towns have adopted Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions.
That prompted Democratic State Representative A. Donald McEachin to suggest that Democratic Governor Ralph Northam “may have to nationalize the National Guard to enforce the law.”
(McEachin evidently didn’t pay attention in civics class. Governors don’t “nationalize” the National Guard. Presidents do that when they call up state National Guard units to serve in U.S. armed forces. Governors can mobilize their states’ National Guard units to deal with state emergencies or put down insurrections, which is presumably what McEachin had in mind.)
The explosion of support for Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions in Virginia seems to stem from reports that the Democratic-controlled state legislature — Democrats won majorities in both houses last November — would propose an assault rifle ban and possible confiscation, or failing that, mandatory gun registration.
Sloppy language aside, McEachin’s broader point is that organized, institutionalized action by local governments not to enforce state laws they consider unconstitutional is an insurrection, and the state government would be within its rights to use military force to put down the insurrection and enforce the law.
The same argument can be made with regard to sanctuary cities. Both the sanctuary cities movement and the Second Amendment sanctuary movements are latter-day examples of Calhoun’s doctrine of nullification, and acts of insurrection. And if nullification is normalized as a political tactic, don’t be surprised is the end result is civil war.
Here’s an idea: Progressives could quit creating sanctuary cities and conservatives could quit creating Second Amendment sanctuaries. If that’s a quid pro quo, make the most of it.
this opinion column does not reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.