By Kahrin Deines
HELENA – Montana is trying to trigger a battle over gun control — and perhaps make a larger point about what many folks in this ruggedly independent state regard as a meddlesome federal government.
In a bill passed by the Legislature earlier this month, the state is asserting that guns manufactured in Montana and sold in Montana to people who intend to keep their weapons in Montana are exempt from federal gun registration, background check and dealer-licensing rules because no state lines are crossed.
That notion is all but certain to be tested in court.
The immediate effect of the law could be limited, since Montana is home to just a few specialty gun makers, known for high-end hunting rifles and replicas of Old West weapons, and because their out-of-state sales would automatically trigger federal control.
Still, much bigger prey lies in Montana’s sights: a legal showdown over how far the federal government’s regulatory authority extends.
“It’s a gun bill, but it’s another way of demonstrating the sovereignty of the state of Montana,” said Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who signed the bill.
Carrie DiPirro, a spokeswoman for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, had no comment on the legislation. But the federal government has generally argued that it has authority under the interstate commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution to regulate guns because they can so easily be transported across state lines.