Gun bills begin their path through the Senate after clearing House

Ravalli County Undersheriff Perry Johnson speaks against a bill to prohibit the enforcement of new federal gun laws during a hearing Wednesday

Ravalli County Undersheriff Perry Johnson speaks against a bill to prohibit the enforcement of new federal gun laws during a hearing Wednesday

A collection of controversial gun bills are making their way through the state Senate after passing the House.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard two bills from Representative Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel) on Wednesday. One (HB 302) would prevent the legislature from enforcing any new federal bans on semi-automatic firearms or high-capacity magazines. Kerns calls it a response to federal intrusion, even though the federal government has yet to make any decisions in new gun control talks. “There’s nothing wrong with us pre-empting them and saying we’re not going to go along with what it is they’re attempting to do,” he said.

The Montana Sheriff’s and Peace Officers Association opposes the bill. Ravalli County Undersheriff Perry Johnson says he does not agree with the new gun regulations being proposed at the federal level, but he does not want to put state statutes at odds with federal laws.

He uses an example of arresting someone in partnership with a federal officer, saying “If we seized someone during that enforcement action that had a high-capacity magazine and a semi-automatic weapon, we could be arrested or we could be charged with a criminal act. That’s not appropriate.”

Some critics of the bill also say it would not pass federal constitutional muster.

The other bill Represenative Kerns brought before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday (HB 205) removes the state’s prohibition on gun silencers. Kerns says Hollywood has not accurately portrayed silencers, which her refers to as ‘suppressors.’ The gunshot is not silent, the initial sound of the bullet leaving the muzzle is lowered about 20 percent, or 30 decibals.

“All we’re suppressing is the sound of the muzzle blast in the immediate area. The projectile traveling beyond the speed of sound, the sonic boom remains—the downrange noise remains the same,” Kerns said. Supporters say lowering the muzzle blast is enough to help with hearing loss for big game hunters. Plus they say a months-long federal background check is required before silencers can be used in any respect.

Montana hunters can already use silencers when hunting coyote, fox, prairie dogs and gopher. This legislation seeks to lift all prohibition, allowing the suppressors for big game hunting.

The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks spoke against the bill. FWP Law Enforcement Chief Jim Kropp says landowners and other recreationists rely on being able to effectively hear where gun shots are coming from during hunting season.

“Over a distance from where that weapon is fired 30 decibels does make a big difference in being able to hear the report of that weapon,” Kropp said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee has not yet voted on either of these bills.