By Freddy Monares/UM Legislative News Service
HELENA – Lawmakers heard testimony on a bill Wednesday that would supersede federal law for any future ban on firearms and magazines.
Senate Bill 99 would create the “Montana Federal Firearm and Magazine Ban Enforcement Prohibition Act” and would force local law enforcement agencies in Montana to ignore current and future federal bans on firearms.
Supporters and opponents of the bill referenced the case of Sheriff Printz v. United States, in which Ravalli County Sheriff Jay Printz challenged the Brady Bill, which required local chief law enforcement officers to perform background checks on people buying handguns.
Gary Marbut, a Missoula resident and president of the Montana Sports Shooting Association, supported the bill and used Sheriff Printz’s case as a parallel.
“And the Supreme Court held that Congress may not commandeer the resources of the state and local government to implement congressional purposes,” Marbut said.
Marbut also referred the committee to Montana code to further his argument, which says local governments cannot enact their own restrictions on firearms.
Mark Murphy, lobbyist for the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police and the Montana Police Protective Association, opposed the bill, saying it would conflict with the oath law enforcement officers take. Murphy also took issue with the part of the bill that would mean local officers could be arrested for using state time to enforce federal firearm laws.
“I would also point out that when Sheriff Printz, when he opposed the Brady Bill, didn’t get arrested, and so we don’t like the arrest provisions in there,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the bill would ban all future gun laws coming from Washington D.C. during a time when the presidential administration may become more lenient on gun laws. He asked the committee what would happen if the federal government got rid of the Brady law.
“Well that’s new federal law on guns, do we have to continue doing backgrounds checks at that point, even though they are no longer required?” Murphy asked.
David Galt, lobbyist for the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, testified against the bill and said local officers and deputies often have to interact with federal law enforcement agencies.
“There could be a time, if this bill were passed and it became operational, that firearms and magazines would be seized in an interjurisdictional law enforcement action,” Galt said. “We have concerns that our officers could have their job in jeopardy and be charged with a crime.”
Sen. Cary Smith, R-Billings, is the sponsor of the bill and said law enforcement officers in the state do not take an oath to serve the federal government.
“The jobs that our law enforcement folks are hired to do is not to enforce federal laws, as much as it is to take and protect us and do the will that we give them. We are their employers,” Smith said.
This was the first time the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on the bill.
Freddy Monares is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.