HELENA — A growing number of states joining the legal battle over federal gun control argued Monday that Congress can’t regulate guns made and sold within a state.
The argument over gun control, sparked with the “firearm freedoms act” first enacted in Montana and subsequently in other states, is leading to a constitutional showdown over the reach of Congress into state borders.
Seven states, including Wyoming, filed friend-of-the-court briefs by Monday’s deadline to do so. And the Montana attorney general also is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit first filed by gun advocates in U.S. District Court in Missoula.
The proper role
“The American people and the several states created the federal government, and they now want the federal government constrained to the proper role for which it was created,” said Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association that launched the lawsuit.
“This is a forward step for freedom that has always been at the heart of who we are in America.”
Utah, Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia all signed on to the lawsuit. The states argue that the U.S. Constitution gives them the right to control activities inside state borders, and they want the authority to do so under the firearms freedom acts advancing around the country.
“These laws are intended to allow their respective citizens to engage within their states in constitutionally protected activity without burdensome federal oversight and regulation of their solely intrastate activities,” wrote Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff on behalf of the states.
Gun advocates filed the lawsuit last year after the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives warned that gun dealers were still bound by federal regulations.
Court declaration wanted
The gun advocates want a court declaration preventing federal agents from enforcing federal gun laws on Montana-made equipment in Montana.
The U.S. Department of Justice has asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit, saying states can’t exempt themselves from national gun control laws.
The agency said that federal gun control is a “valid exercise of Congress’ commerce power under the Constitution.”
It argues that gun control dating back to the 1934 National Firearms Act was put in place to regulate guns that could be “used readily and efficiently by criminals or gangsters.” That and subsequent laws are meant to keep tabs on guns that easily pass between state borders, the Justice Department has argued in court filings.
In their own brief, the gun advocates argued Monday that authorities could freely prosecute those who cross borders with guns bought under the Montana Firearms Freedom Act.
“In the event someone might leave Montana in possession of an MFFA firearm, moreover, nothing in Montana law purports to interfere with a federal prosecution of them for transporting, transferring or possessing such an item in actual interstate commerce without a federal license,” Marbut’s group argued.
Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock asked the court to let his office intervene in the case and sign on as a central party in order to better argue the constitutionality of the firearms act.
Because of the growing interest in the case, the court decided Monday to give people joining the case until the end of next week to file arguments. The federal government was given until May 18 to respond.