HELENA, Mont. (March 9, 2017)  – Montana Gov. Bullock has vetoed a bill that would have authorized a person to carry a handgun on U.S. Postal Service property in the state and set the foundation for the people there to reject an unconstitutional federal gun control measure in practice.

In his veto letter, Bullock argued that House Bill 246 (HB246) violated the Property Clause and Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution.

“We would not propose to tell the United States Air Force how to run Malmstrom Air Force Base, or for that matter a private store owner who poses a ‘No firearms allowed’ in their storefront,” he wrote.

On his campaign website, Bullock described himself as “a staunch supporter of our Second Amendment rights.” Despite the rhetoric, the Democrat governor has vetoed other bills protecting gun rights in Montana in the past.

Bullock utilized a bastardized understanding of the supremacy clause, basically asserting that the federal government can do anything it pleases. In fact, the supremacy clause only says acts “in pursuance” of the Constitution are supreme, as Alexander Hamilton asserted in Federalist #78

“There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the constitution, can be valid.”

His argument also (intentionally?) misses the nuance of the bill, which Rep. Randy Brodehl (R-Kalispell) first introduced on Jan. 13. Passage of HB246 would not have told the federal government to do anything, and it wouldn’t have physically stopped the federal government from prosecuting a person arrested on USPS property with a firearm. It would have simply removed the most important layer of enforcement by prohibiting state and local law agencies from enforcing the law.

Without state or local police cooperation, who would make the arrests? Without such assistance, the federal government would have a difficult time enforcing its law. The post office would have to rely on federal law enforcement agencies to patrol Montana USPS facilities and make arrests under federal law. It simply does not have the resources to do this effectively. Passage of HB246 would nullify in effect the federal law.

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

Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano agreed. In a televised discussion on the issue, he noted that a single state taking this step would make federal gun laws “nearly impossible” to enforce.

The federal government relies heavily on state cooperation to implement and enforce almost all of its laws, regulations and acts – including gun laws. By simply withdrawing this necessary cooperation, states can nullify in effect many federal actions. As noted by the National Governor’s Association during the partial government shutdown of 2013, “states are partners with the federal government on most federal programs.”

“Partnerships don’t work too well when half the team quits,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “By withdrawing all resources and participation in federal gun control schemes, the states can effectively bring them down.”


Although the Constitution delegates power to the federal government “to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States,” the Second Amendment prohibits any law that infringes on the right to keep and bear arms. The regulations prohibiting firearms on USPS property violates the Second Amendment.

Provisions withdrawing state and local enforcement of federal law in HB246 rest on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program. The anti-commandeering doctrine is based primarily on four Supreme Court cases dating back to 1842. Printz v. US serves as the cornerstone.

“We held in New York that Congress cannot compel the States to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Today we hold that Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the States’ officers directly. 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 policy making 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.”


TJ Martinell

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