Montana Firearms Subject to Federal Registration

Firearms made, sold and used only in Montana cannot avoid federal regulations to register weapons, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held last week.

The decision was a defeat for the maker of a .22 rifle, the Montana Buckaroo, as well as the Montana Shooting Sports Association and the Second Amendment Foundation.

The groups, along with Gary Marbut, builder of the Buckaroo, challenged federal gun registration rules saying that the Montana Firearms Freedom Act allows any firearms made in the state and sold within the state, and remain in the state, are beyond the scope of Congress’s commerce power to regulation.

The Montana law declared that weapons made, sold and kept inside the state are not subject to federal law or federal regulation of interstate commerce.

Marbut sought to build the rifles in Montana but he argued he did not want to have to comply with federal licensing requirements as a manufacturer.

After the state passed the law, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) sent an open letter to Montanans warning that the law is superseded by federal law.

The 9th Circuit rejected Marbut’s argument that expansive interpretation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution is inconsistent with dual state-federal sovereignty.

Judge Richard Clifton said even Marbut acknowledged that the court was bound by precedent and could not reinterpret existing case law in the area.

“The regulation of the Montana Buckaroo is within Congress’s commerce power,” Clifton said.

Even if Marbut never sells a Buckaroo outside of Montana, “Congress could rationally conclude that unlicensed firearms would make their way into the interstate market.”

Indeed, the Montana law is preempted by federal law, the majority states.

Joining Clifton was Judge Wallace Tashima.

In partial dissent, Judge Carlos Bea said he agreed with the majority up to that point, but separates from the opinion when it finds the Montana law is preempted.  That step wasn’t necessary he said.

Case:  Mont. Shooting Sports Ass’n. v. Holder,  No. 10-36094







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