HELENA, Mont. (Feb 2, 2021) – On Tuesday, a Montana House committee held a hearing on a bill that would take on federal laws restricting firearms, magazines, or ammunition and take a major step toward ending some federal acts that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms within the state.
Rep. Jedediah Hinkle (R-Belgrade) introduced House Bill 258 (HB258) on Jan. 27. The legislation would prohibit police officers, state employees, and employees of any political subdivision of the state from enforcing, assisting in the enforcement of, or otherwise cooperating in the enforcement of a “federal ban” on firearms, magazines, or ammunition.
It would also bar them from participating in federal enforcement actions and prohibit the expenditure or allocation of public funds or resources for such enforcement.
On Feb. 2, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the bill.
The proposed law, the second priority bill of the legislative session from the Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA), defines “federal ban” broadly as “a federal law, executive order, rule, regulation, or a new and more restrictive interpretation of an existing law that infringes upon, calls in question, or prohibits, restricts, or requires individual licensure for or registration of the purchase, ownership, possession, transfer, or use of any firearm, any magazine or other ammunition feeding device, or other firearm accessory.”
The language includes some exceptions and would allow enforcement of federal laws that apply to the use of automatic weapons, the enforcement of federal or state laws prohibiting a person with a violent felony conviction from possessing a firearm, and the enforcement of laws prohibiting a person convicted of a misdemeanor offense of domestic violence from possessing a firearm.
The Montana legislature has passed this legislation three times, in 2013, 2015 and 2016, but then-Governor Steve Bullock vetoed it all three times.
Gary Marbut of MSSA wrote, “HB 258 is intended to protect Montana from the raft of gun control laws, executive orders, rules, and regulations that are expected to be pushed on us by the Biden administration and the new Congress.”
Marbut said law enforcement officers he spoke with support the bill because they don’t want to enforce a bunch of new federal gun control rules. “Not only would such enforcement distract them from important local policing needs; it could be risky.”
The federal government relies heavily on state cooperation to implement and enforce almost all of its laws, regulations and acts – including gun control. By simply withdrawing this necessary cooperation, states and localities can nullify many federal actions in effect. As noted by the National Governors’ Association during the partial government shutdown of 2013, “states are partners with the federal government on most federal programs.”
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 effective method to bring down federal gun control measures because most enforcement actions rely on help, support and leadership from state and local governments.
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.
“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, states and even local governments can help bring these unconstitutional acts to their much-needed end.”
The state of Montana can legally bar state agents from enforcing federal gun control. Refusal to cooperate with federal enforcement rests 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 five Supreme Court cases dating back to 1842. Printz v. U.S. 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”
The House Judiciary Committee needs to bring HB258 up for a vote and it must pass by a majority before moving forward in the legislative process. Montana residents are urged to contact each member of the committee and firmly, but respectfully urge their support – and a YES vote when it comes up for an Executive Session. Find contact info for Judiciary Committee members here.