State? Federal? State & Federal? The Answer is All of the Above.

There is a very fancy word attorneys love to use because it doesn’t factor into plain English:  “jurisdiction.”  It simply means ‘under whose authority.’

If you are a firearms manufacturer, federal firearms licensee, or gun owner, you may be wondering just who is in charge of what and why.  Is it your state government?  Your federal government?  Both?

Just as you have “dual” citizenship, both to your state and to the United States, so, too, do both the state and the national governments have authority over you.

Federal firearms jurisdiction falls largely under two provisions of the United States Constitution.  The first is the Second Amendment.  The second is the interstate commerce clause.  These two provisions of the United States Constitution are the highest legal authority in the land, and they often collide.  These two provisions create a tension between individuals and the federal government, and both evolve from the very same drafting founding fathers.

State firearms jurisdiction derives from state constitutions, which vary as widely as the fifty states.  It is a general legal truth that federal jurisdiction, when lawfully exercised, will trump state jurisdiction.  But, what you are more likely to see relative to firearms, are statutes and regulations and enforcement that happens in tandem between federal and state authorities.

There is no general rule of thumb as to whether states will be more or less restrictive or liberal than the federal government.  When the federal government imposes itself in sweeping ways, as it did, for example, with the 1994 assault weapon ban, a state generally cannot pass legislation that is less restrictive or it will be struck down through federal court cases.

Most often how the federal government cajoles the states to go-along/get-along is to ask them to adopt the same or similar provisions of a federal mandate or at least refrain from seeking to legislate on the same issues by offering funding incentives.  For example, the federal government might pass restrictive gun ownership legislation and offer states funding for expanded law enforcement activities.  

What does all of this mean for you?  It means that to participate in the firearms arena one must be equally aware of all federal and all state laws and regulations that might apply.  Everything from the specific features of firearms to the registration of firearms to the sale of firearms can be under the jurisdiction of both the federal and the state government.  

And all of this is without getting into local ordinances that may apply…