- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - A bill vetoed by Gov. Steve Bullock in 2013 that sought to prevent local police from enforcing federal bans on semi-automatic weapons is getting another shot in the state Legislature.

Republican Rep. Art Wittich of Bozeman introduced House Bill 203 in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and told lawmakers he’d like to expand the scope of the bill.

“What I’d like to see is that the bill be broadened by removing the references to semi-automatic weapons,” Wittich said. “The intent of this was that anything that impairs Montanans’ rights to keep and bear arms by the federal government … is something that we should not be co-opted into as far as enforcement.”

Under the measure, local law enforcement authorities would be barred from enforcing any federal laws banning semi-automatic weapons. County attorneys would be required to prosecute those enforcing such laws. For example, a police officer who arrests someone illegally selling a semi-automatic weapon could be arrested and charged with the crime of enforcing federal gun laws.

Jim Smith with the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association said the bill, if passed, would put law enforcement in the position of violating laws they have sworn to uphold.

“I think from the sheriff’s perspective this is a misguided effort and an ill-advised attempt to send a message to the federal government,” he said, adding that sheriffs can stand up to what he called federal government overreach with authority they already possess.

Other opponents said this bill would put the justice system in disarray in an attempt to usurp federal law.

Bill supporter Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings hold that Congress can’t commandeer the resources of state and local governments. He also said while a ban isn’t currently in place, President Barack Obama’s gun-control proposals include a ban on military-style assault weapons.

“If the Senate were to ratify that then the federal government would be imposing all kinds of new firearms restrictions that are just not consistent with Montana culture,” he said.

The majority of states have enacted laws in recent years that reject or ignore federal laws on gun control, marijuana use, health insurance requirements and identification standards for driver’s licenses, an Associated Press analysis found in 2013.

States including Montana and Arizona have said “no” to the feds repeatedly - passing states’ rights bills on all four subjects examined by the AP - despite questions about whether their “no” carries any legal significance.

Wittich said he believes he has “a kernel of a good bill” and that he looks forward to making it better with the help of the Republican-led committee.


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