Gun, sheriff bills challenge authority of federal government

Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel), left, with supporters of his bill to prohibit state enforcement of any new federal gun ban

Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel), left, with supporters of his bill to prohibit state enforcement of any new federal gun ban

Conservative Montana lawmakers are bringing forth a series of bills this session focused on the reach and authority granted by the 2nd Amendment.

Last week, The House Judiciary Committee looked into a bill allowing guns in locked vehicles on public K-12 school grounds. This week, the issue moves to college campuses. HB 240, sponsored by Representative Cary Smith (R-Billings) would remove laws restricting firearms on public college campuses. The Montana University System now typically only allows weapons on campus in authorized storage areas (see the University of Montana and Montana State University firearms policies.)

A number of students from both UM and MSU spoke in favor of Smith’s bill. Christine Gobrogge is pursuing her PhD in physical chemistry at MSU. Between her school work and teaching undergraduate courses, she spends the majority of her time on campus.  She says she has learned how to use a firearm in the class she took for her concealed carry permit.

“Because of the laws right now, I can’t protect myself or my students to the best of my ability,” she said. She walks to and from school in the dark most days and worries about fending off assaults.

Associate Commissioner of Higher Education Kevin McRae spoke against the bill, he says   campuses employ full-fledged police departments to respond to threats on campus. He says this bill would create a double standard between college campuses and other state government property.

“If this bill passes,” McRae said. “It will remain illegal to carry guns into this capitol building or any other state government building, but apparently welcome and encouraged to carry guns into college sports stadiums, tailgate events, college classrooms (or) dining halls.”

A legal review note from the Legislative Services Department also suggests the State Legislature may not have the authority to pass such a law, saying that authority falls to the Montana Board of Regents.

Federal Authority

The House Judiciary Committee also heard two bills from Representative Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel) asserting states rights over those of the federal government. With his HB 302, Kerns is seeking to prohibit the enforcement of potential new firearms laws being discussed in Washington D.C. in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting. Proposals from the Obama Administration favor a ban on some semiautomatic weapons and large magazines and would require universal background checks before new guns may be purchased. A handful of Montana Sheriffs have already said they won’t enforce new gun laws.

“This is the response of a sovereign state to the unconstitutional usurpation of power by the federal government,” Kerns said. The Representative and bill supporters brought up 2nd Amendment rights as those which guarantee the ability to protect oneself and say the government may not infringe upon them.

“Folks inside the beltway of Washington D.C. don’t think like we do and they don’t live like we do,” said supporter Lloyd Phillips. “This is Montanans standing together for our rights and against ideas that really are foreign to us, that aren’t our ideas and they don’t fit with our lifestyle.”
Former Navy SEAL John Bowenhollow opposes the bill, saying rights guaranteed under the Second Amendment are not unlimited and at times citizens of a state need to look at what’s good for the nation as a whole. “Do we do the citizens of Chicago any good
 if we say we’re not going to enforce a law and that becomes a pipeline down I-90 to them.”
Opponents to the bill also say deciding not to enforce certain laws passed by the federal government would be in direct conflict with the US Constitution’s supremacy clause (Article VI, Clause II).
Sheriff Supremacy
Rep. Kerns is also sponsoring a bill (HB 303)requiring federal law enforcement officers to obtain permission of the local county sheriff before being able to make arrests, conduct searches or seize property. Kerns says this recognizes a sheriff as “the supreme law enforcement officer in the county.”
Supporter, Montana Shooting Sports Association President Gary Marbut says sheriffs being elected to office by local constituents provides a level of accountability not available with federal officials.
The Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association opposes the bill. Spokesman Jim Smith says it’s an impractical and unworkable bill.


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