HELENA, MT., January 27, 2015 –  A bill seeking to thwart some potential gun control measures was given a hearing today, and supporters say the results were positive, even in the face of establishment opposition.

Introduced by Rep. Art Wittich, House Bill 203 (HB203) the “Montana Federal Semiautomatic Firearm and Large Magazine Ban Enforcement Prohibition Act” would prohibit the state “from enforcing, assisting in the enforcement of or otherwise cooperating in the enforcement of a federal ban on semiautomatic weapons or large magazines”. The bill also prohibits state participation in any federal enforcement action implementing a federal ban on semiautomatic weapons or large magazines.

Based on James Madison’s advice for states and individuals in Federalist #46, a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union” is an extremely effectively method to bring down federal gun control measures because most enforcement actions rely on help, support and leadership in the states.

By withdrawing enforcement support on the state end, any such federal gun control measures would be “nearly impossible to enforce,” said Judge Andrew Napolitano in a discussion on such bills last year.

“Citizens are increasingly realizing that the federal government is inventing “authority” over their rights, including those under the 2nd Amendment,” said Wittich. “States are similarly realizing they can and must refuse to participate in these improper regulatory expansions.”

Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, which originally drafted the bill, agreed. “I want to do everything possible to divorce Montana from federal control,” he said. “In Montana, we know our people and what they need, and we know our culture. What may seem good in D.C. is not always desirable in or good for Montana.”


Today’s hearing was an opportunity for the general public to share their thoughts on the bill with the committee.  While there were some from the grassroots in attendance, a number of long-standing gun-control groups, the “usual suspects,” as Marbut called them, were on hand to oppose the bill. Jim Smith with the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association said the bill, if passed, would put law enforcement in the position of violating laws they have sworn to uphold.

“Smith is either lying, or just doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about,” said Scott Landreth of ShallNot.org. “The Supreme Court has long held that states cannot be required to enforce federal laws or regulatory programs, and the most notable case on this was regarding federal gun control.”

Landreth was discussing is known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. This is a legal principle that the Supreme Court has upheld in cases from 1842 to 2012, saying that state resources cannot be “commandeered” on behalf of the federal government. The landmark case was the 1997 Printz case, where the Court held that local law enforcement could not be required to enforce the Brady Gun Control Act for the federal government.

For the majority, Justice Scalia wrote:

The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policymaking is involved, and no case-by-case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.

“There is no ‘law’ that requires Montana law enforcement to help the feds ban guns, so there’s nothing to violate, except a ban on helping the feds violate people’s rights” Landreth continued. “All Smith needs to do is learn to read.”

As noted Georgetown Law Constitutional Scholar Randy Barnett has said, “This line of cases is now 20 years old and considered well settled.”


With some significant support coming in for the bill from the grassroots, Wittich is looking to expand the scope of it before it gets to the House floor.  “What I’d like to see is that the bill be broadened by removing the references to semi-automatic weapons,” Wittich told the Associated Press. “The intent of this was that anything that impairs Montanans’ rights to keep and bear arms by the federal government … is something that we should not be co-opted into as far as enforcement.”

Marbut said he liked the idea of making the bill broader and hoped that this would encourage other states to take similar actions. “In Montana we can introduce and establish some ideas that may provide encouragement and possibilities for people in other states,” he said. “We are pleased to be creative and to break the political trail for people in other states who may yearn for more freedom.”


HB203 is expect to be scheduled for an executive session in the Judiciary committee, where members will vote on whether to send it to the full House for further consideration.


In Montana: Follow the steps to support this bill at THIS LINK


Urge your state rep and senator to introduce a similar bill. Send them the link the model legislation at this link:

contact info here:  http://openstates.org/find_your_legislator


Michael Boldin

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