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.

Sally and Mike talk tax cuts, Medicaid, abortion, assisted suicide and what’s next….

Johnson, Mauk & Dennison 3SMALL

Tonight on “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporter Mike Dennison about tax cuts, Medicaid expansion, abortion, assisted suicide – and what happens next in the second half of the legislative session…

Sally, Chuck and Mike talk assisted suicide, death penalty, guns and schools

Johnson, Mauk & Dennison 3SMALLTonight on “Capitol Talk”, our weekly legislative analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about the fate of bills on assisted suicide, charter schools, gun rights, and the death penalty…

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.


Montana has similar “Stand Your Ground” Law to Florida

Law enforcement officials in Florida have charged Neighborhood Watch Volunteer George Zimmerman in the shooting death of 17 year old Trayvon Martin–almost a month and a half after the incident. The case created widespread outrage after Zimmerman was initially released with no charges filed. Zimmerman says he was acting in self-defense, and was released under Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ Law.

21 states have ‘Stand Your Ground’ statutes, including Montana. These laws give wide latitude to using deadly force when someone feels he or she is in danger.

Republican Representative Krayton Kerns carried House Bill 229 back in the 2009 legislature. It added several new statutes to Montana law, which Kerns says reflect the spirit of the 2nd Amendment.

“No doubt, self-defense or self-preservation is a fundamental, natural right,” he said.

As for a “Stand your Ground” policy, the law says anybody lawfully carrying a weapon, like through a concealed carry license, may threaten the use of deadly force including drawing the weapon if that person “reasonably believes that the person or another person is threatened with bodily harm.”

When it comes to using force, the bill includes what’s known as a ‘Castle Doctrine.’ A person who is threatened with bodily injury or loss of life has no duty to retreat from a threat or summon law enforcement before using force.

“This law, the way it’s written makes it very easy for someone to talk his way out of being convicted,” said Acting Director of the group Montanan’s Against Gun Violence Robert McKelvey. He wrote an editorial in the Missoulian bringing up another piece of House Bill 229.   It says that in a criminal trial the state has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s actions were not justified, if that defendant gives evidence of justifiable use of force—like self-defense. McKelvey says it would be very difficult to prove a shooting was not self-defense if the only surviving witness is the shooter.

After shooting Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman was released by claiming self-defense. Zimmerman says he was attacked by Martin. Police say he was bleeding from the nose and had gashes on the back of his head.

Again, a lot of the controversy around the Martin shooting is Zimmerman was released without being charged, without moving to a trial. Representative Krayton Kerns agrees with that move. We are innocent until proven guilty, he says.

“Which is more fair or which is a greater crime. To charge someone with a crime when in fact they were practicing self-defense or allowing them to go free because there was no evidence to convict him. Either way you have the tragedy that a young man has died but I’m not sure anything is going to change if Zimmerman were immediately locked up and he had to prove his innocence. That’s an exceptionally difficult thing to do, to prove a negative,” he said.

Regardless, George Zimmerman now sits in police custody in Florida charged with Second-Degree Murder.

Campaign Beat Mar 30 – Chuck, Sally and Mike talk about the Supreme Court and the Senate race

Chuck Johnson, Sally Mauk, Mike Dennison

In this edition of “Campaign Beat”, our weekly political analysis program, News Director Sally Mauk talks with Lee newspaper reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison about the U.S. Supreme Court hearing on the Affordable Care Act, a new ad in the U.S. Senate race, and why Planned Parenthood of Montana is mad at state representative Krayton Kerns…