Jim Braziel, chief range safety officer at SharpShooters gun range, looks over shotguns Thursday in Greenville, S.C.(Photo: Patrick Collard, Gannett)
A growing number of states are aiming to keep Uncle Sam's hands off
their weapons if Congress decides to stiffen gun-control laws in
response to last month's deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School
in Newtown, Conn.
Eight states - Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana,
South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming - have adopted laws in recent
years that would exempt guns made in the state from federal regulation
as long as they remain in the state, according to Jon Griffin of the
National Conference of State Legislatures.
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Twenty-one other states
have introduced similar legislation, said Gary Marbut, president of the
Montana Shooting Sports Association. Marbut was the force behind the
Montana Firearms Freedom Act of 2009, upon which many other states have
patterned their bills. Implementation of Montana's and other laws are on
hold pending a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision, Marbut and
his attorney, Quentin Rhoades said.
Although the state laws are on
the books, Marbut, who runs a website called firearmsfreedomact.com and
monitors action in other states said, "I have strongly suggested that
people not act according to the Montana law until the legal case is
cleared." Other states also are holding back during the court fight, he
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Marbut bases his argument on the 10th Amendment's dictate
that, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the
Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the
States respectively, or to the people."
Jessica Leinwand, an
attorney for the federal government, argued in a 2010 hearing on the
Montana case that Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce
gives it the power to regulate guns across the nation, saying, "it's
unrealistic to think that these guns won't leave the state of Montana."
such laws to stand "would leave a gaping hole in federal firearms
regulation," she said, according to the court transcript.
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Marbut, the federal government's use of the Constitution's much-debated
commerce clause - which gives Congress the right to regulate commerce
"among the several states," - is the larger issue.
"In general, people don't like the overbearing federal government sticking its nose in everybody's business," he said.
Lowry, director of the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to
Prevent Gun Violence, said the courts have been clear that states can't
exempt themselves from federal regulation of guns because it would have
ramifications across state lines.
South Carolina Republican state
Sen. Lee Bright last month introduced for the third year in a row a
Firearms Freedom bill that he said is patterned after Montana's. He said
he believes it has a better chance of being adopted this year because
of fears that Washington will pass more restrictive gun laws.
for a new handgun at Sharpshooters Gun Club and Range in Greenville,
S.C., Margaret Ellis expressed support for the Firearms Freedom bill:
"If we can keep the federal government out of anything, I'd prefer
that." But at the State Farmers Market across the street, Connie Wagar
called Bright's bill "a bad idea," saying it would likely open the door
to unregistered guns falling into the hands of criminals.