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Brady Bill background check provision isn’t fit to Printz (Printz v. United States)

Quimbee: Printz v. United States

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In 1993, Congress passed a federal gun-control measure known as the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The act required background checks for anyone who wanted to purchase a firearm. Because the nationwide system envisioned by the act would take some time to implement, the act provided that state and local officials would conduct the background checks in the meantime.

Two county sheriffs charged with running the background checks filed separate lawsuits to challenge the act. The cases were consolidated and ultimately came before the United States Supreme Court in Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898 (1997).

The issue for the Court was whether the act unconstitutionally compelled state and local officials to enforce federal law. Ultimately, the Court struck down the provision on the ground that it violated the Tenth Amendment’s anti-commandeering principle.

Based on the anti-commandeering principle, the federal government may not compel state actors to implement or administer federal regulatory programs. Although state judges must apply federal standards in deciding cases, the federal government may not commandeer state executive-branch officials to implement federal policy.

Thus, the act improperly encroached upon state sovereignty by requiring state officials to enforce federal law.

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