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Printz v. United States


Like many Supreme Court cases, Printz was not really about the issue it supposedly addressed--in this case, gun control. Instead, it was about the relative power of the federal and state governments, an issue raised in numerous parts of the Constitution, including the Tenth Amendment. Jerome L. Wilson pointed out the difference between the practical and the constitutional issues in the title of his August of 1997 New Jersey Law Journal article, "It Wasn't About Handguns at All." Yet as in many cases, to those involved, the practical issue was the important question. At an earlier stage in the history of the case, Sarah Brady told USA Today that "In light of the success of the Brady law in stopping the cash-and-carry sale of handguns to felons . . . any sheriff who doesn't use the five days to do a background check should be ashamed." Many viewed the verdict in Printz as a judgment on handgun control itself, not on federalism; certainly it was the first major challenge to the Brady Act, just three months after the latter had been passed by Congress. But a writer in News Media & the Law perhaps best glimpsed the constitutional implications by noting that the U.S. District Court in South Carolina could use the Supreme Court's Printz ruling to strike down the South Carolina Driver's Privacy Protection Act. The latter, which the writer said limits public access to Department of Motor Vehicles records and places an undue burden on the states, could be challenged on the basis of a Tenth-Amendment violation.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1995 to PresentPrintz v. United States - Significance, John Hinckley Helps Write The Brady Bill, The Majority Takes Its Cue From History