HELENA, Montana — The Montana Senate advanced a proposal on Wednesday to instruct Montana law enforcement agencies to disregard future federal gun laws.
Two Democratic senators voted with 26 Republican senators in a 28-22 vote to give House Bill 203 an initial green light.
The Republican-sponsored proposal would prohibit state employees, including police officers and judges, from enforcing federal laws that restrict or require licensure for ownership, possession, transfer or use of firearms or ammunition.
The bill was amended in the House Judiciary Committee to remove references to semi-automatic weapons. The committee also amended the bill to allow the recognition of federal laws regarding fully automatic weapons and laws prohibiting people with prior offenses or mental disabilities from using firearms.
In their argument that states can legally subvert the federal government on the issue of guns, Republicans cited two provisions of the U.S. Constitution. They did not mention Article VI, which states the federal government constitutes the supreme law of the land, in spite of any state laws to the contrary.
Sen. Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, said the Constitution's first segment grants only certain powers to the U.S. Congress and regulating gun use is not one of them. "They don't have supremacy in this area because it's not clearly enumerated in Article I Section 8," Sales said.
Sen. Doug Kary, R-Billings, said the Second Amendment implores the protection of the right to keep and bear arms, including against laws that would stifle it. "The constitution and law are very different," Kary said. "The constitution is the supreme law."
Sen. Brian Hoven, R-Great Falls, made a brief and contradictory argument about supremacy. "Federal law trumps state law," Hoven said.
Hoven and two other Republicans, Sens. Pat Connell and Bruce Tutvedt, voted against the proposal with all Democrats except Sens. Bradley Hamlett and Sharon Stewart-Peregoy.
The measure faces a final vote before heading to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock.