MT: House aims to shoot down federal gun controls
HELENA — Montana lawmakers fired another shot in battles for states' rights as they supported letting some Montana gun owners and dealers skip reporting their transactions to the federal government.
Under House Bill 246, firearms made in Montana and used in Montana would be exempt from federal regulation. The same would be true for firearm accessories and ammunition made and sold in the state.
"What we need here is for Montana to be able to handle Montana's business and affairs,'' Republican Rep. Joel Boniek told fellow lawmakers Saturday. The wilderness guide from Livingston defeated Republican incumbent Bruce Malcolm in last spring's election.
Boniek's measure aims to circumvent federal authority over interstate commerce, which is the legal basis for most gun regulation in the United States. The bill potentially could release Montanans from both federal gun registration requirements and dealership licensing rules. Since the state has no background-check laws on its own books, the legislation also could free gun purchasers from that requirement.
"Firearms are inextricably linked to the history and culture of Montana, and I'd like to support that,'' Boniek said. "But I want to point out that the issue here is not about firearms. It's about state rights.''
The House voted 64-36 for the bill on Saturday. If it clears a final vote, the measure will go to the Senate.
House Republicans were joined by 14 Democrats in passing the measure.
"I would hope that our U.S. Supreme Court would begin to retreat from what I think is an abusive interpretation of our interstate commerce clause,'' said Rep. Deborah Kottel, a Democrat from Great Falls who supports the measure.
That clause in the U.S. Constitution grants Congress authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the states. The Supreme Court has handled cases seeking to limit the clause's application in recent years. In 2005, the court upheld federal authority to regulate marijuana under the clause, even when its use is limited to noncommercial purposes — such as medical reasons — and it is grown and used within a state's borders.
The Montana bill follows fears here and elsewhere that the election of Barack Obama as president will trigger more gun regulation. In the months before Obama's inauguration, Montanans rushed to stock up on guns, pushing gun sales beyond normal benchmarks despite the recession.
Opponents of the measure worry lax regulations in the state could lead to a similar surge in both gun sales and gun manufacturing.
"Who are we bringing in and is this the kind of business we want to have in this state?'' asked Rep. Sue Malek, D-Missoula. "I want our state to be recognized as a state that cares about people, and that cares about the environment.''
The bill is one of a number the Legislature is considering that may extend gun rights in Montana.
Earlier in the week, the House passed another measure, HB228, that would let Montanans carry concealed weapons in city limits without having permits.
On Saturday the House Judiciary Committee narrowly passed a resolution that affirms Montanans' right to carry weapons in national parks and wildlife refuges.
Monday, February 16, 2009
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