On Jan. 20, as Americans remembered civil rights hero Martin Luther King Jr., an estimated 10,000 people peacefully rallied in Richmond, Virginia, to protest the recent introduction of highly contentious gun control bills into the state Legislature.
Motivated in part by the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” movement that has seen more than 100 Virginia counties and cities pass measures denouncing—and in some cases, preemptively refusing to enforce—constitutionally suspect gun laws, some Virginians at the rally began chants of “We will not comply.”
Many gun control advocates have denounced these chants (and the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement itself) as undemocratic and anti-American. While this reaction was predictable, voicing a collective refusal to comply with laws perceived as unconstitutional or unjust is a fundamental part of American democratic discourse.
In fact, the mantra “We will not comply” helped set the stage for America as it exists today.
In 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which imposed a tax on nearly every piece of paper used by the American colonists. The colonists considered this a direct tax on them without the approval of the colonial legislatures—a flagrant violation of longstanding legal precedent and an affront to their rights as Englishmen.
Threats of noncompliance and public protests so troubled Parliament that the act was repealed before ever being put into effect.