One of the biggest names in gun control is asking a federal judge in Montana to invalidate the state’s pioneering gun law which exempts “Montana made” firearms from national gun laws.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence on Tuesday filed a friend of the court document in an ongoing suit over the law, asking the federal judge to invalidate the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, which was passed by the 2009 Legislature and went into effect last October.
Montana’s law holds that any firearm made in Montana is exempt from national gun-control laws, including background checks, federal gun registration and federal licensure of gun dealers. The law only covers Montana-made guns used in Montana.
“It simply defies the Constitution for a state to say it can unilaterally exempt itself from federal law,” said Dennis Henigan, vice-president for law and policy at the Washington, D.C.-based Brady Center. “This was the (same) claim made by the Southern states in the Jim Crow era. That type of radical states rights position has been consistently rejected by the courts.”
The Montana Shooting Sports Association, one of the law’s strongest supporters, filed a lawsuit last October against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking the judge to stop federal agencies from enforcing their laws in Montana.
The Brady Center joined with the Montana Human Rights Network and a long list of other groups in asking the judge to throw out the law.
In defense of the law, Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock has intervened in the case, writing that Montana’s law is constitutional. Attorneys general in Utah, Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia have also weighed in defending the Montana Firearm Freedom Act.
The bill was not particularly controversial in the 2009 Legislature. An overwhelming 85 representatives from both parties voted in favor of it when it passed the 100-member Montana House. In the Senate, it passed with a strong 29-21 majority, with only Democrats opposing the measure.
Montana’s law was the first of its kind to pass. Since then, however, similar laws have passed in Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho and Arizona. Other clones of the law have been introduced in more than 20 other state legislatures, including Alaska, where the bill is awaiting signature by the Alaska governor.
The law deals with the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which holds that Congress may regulate the sale of products that cross state lines. By manufacturing and keeping the firearms within the state, such Montana-made, Montana-owned guns ought to be exempt from the commerce clause, supporters argue.
Marbut said the law is not only sound legally, but is also gaining support among many other states, which shows a kind of “emerging consensus” nationwide.
Marbut also said the fact that the Brady Center took notice of the Montana law is a good thing and shows that the issue should be decided by a judge, not thrown out, as the Brady Center argues.
“It seems to have sufficient merit to have caught their interest,” he said.
Reporter Jennifer McKee may be reached at 446-4069 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.