HELENA, Mont. (May 20, 2017) – Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill that would take big steps toward making the state a sanctuary for gun rights by prohibiting state enforcement of most federal acts restricting firearms, magazines or ammunition, but an effort to override the veto is underway.
Sen. Cary Smith (R-Billings) introduced Senate Bill 99 (SB99) on Jan. 9. The legislation would prohibit any state or local government employee, or law enforcement officers, from enforcing, assisting in the enforcement of, or in any way cooperating with enforcement of a federal ban on firearms, magazines, or ammunition. The proposed law specifically prohibits participating in any federal enforcement action implementing such a ban.
SB99 includes a broad definition of “federal ban.”
“Federal ban” means a federal law or executive order that has the primary purpose of prohibiting, restricting, or requiring individual licensure for ownership, possession, transfer, or use of any firearm or any magazine or other ammunition feeding device.
The legislation would also prohibit expending or allocating public funds or resources for the enforcement of such federal acts on firearms, magazines or ammunition.
“No one is claiming that immigration ‘sanctuary cities’ are ineffective,” Tenth Amendment Center executive director Michael Boldin said. “So this bill takes that same strategy of withdrawing support for federal enforcement and puts it into practice on federal gun control. Passage would be the first step towards establishing Montana as a ‘Gun Rights Sanctuary State.’”
In his veto message, Bullock claimed the bill would put Montana law enforcement officers in the position of “violating laws they were sworn to uphold.” He appealed to the the oath all Montana law enforcement officers take.
“All Montana public safety officers take an oath upon graduation from the Montana Law Enforcement Academy to ‘enforce or apply all laws and regulations appropriately, courteously and responsibly’ They also commit to ‘work in unison with all legally authorized agencies and their representatives in the pursuit of justice.'”
But simply refusing to help federal enforcement would in no way violate any law. The Supreme Court has long held that the federal government cannot force or compel states and their political subdivisions to enforce federal law, and that states have the authority to direct their own personnel and resources as they fit.
In fact, Bullock affirmed this principle in 2013 when he vetoed a bill that would have prohibited prohibited a local governing body from enacting an “immigration anti-cooperation policy.”
“HB 50 could prevent victims of domestic violence, labor exploitation, unsafe working conditions, or human trafficking from coming forward or seeking help from law enforcement. Not only does this endanger the victims of these crimes, it undermines the ability of local law enforcement to set priorities according to the needs of their communities.”
This raises some serious questions. If local governments can set priorities according to the needs of their communities when it comes to immigration enforcement without worrying about police violating their oath, why can’t the states do the same when it comes to guns? If Bullock wasn’t concerned about police not cooperating with immigration enforcement, he shouldn’t be concerned about them not cooperating with federal firearms enforcement. In fact, the principle behind sanctuary cities and refusal to cooperate with certain federal firearms laws SB99 is exactly the same.
An effort to override the veto is underway. The Senate approved the measure by a 30-20 vote.The House passed it by a 60-40 vote. That means three senators and six House members will need to change their votes in order to get the 2/3 vote necessary to override.
Passage of SB99 would effectively withdraw all state cooperation from the implementation or enforcement of federal gun bans, an effective method to nullify them in practice.
Based on James Madison’s advice for states and individuals in Federalist #46, a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union” represents an extremely effectively method to bring down federal gun control measures because most enforcement actions rely on help, support and leadership from the states.
Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano agreed. In a televised discussion on the issue, he noted that a single state taking this step would make federal gun laws “nearly impossible” to enforce.
The federal government relies heavily on state cooperation to implement and enforce almost all of its laws, regulations and acts – including gun laws. By simply withdrawing this necessary cooperation, states can nullify in effect many federal actions. As noted by the National Governor’s Association during the partial government shutdown of 2013, “states are partners with the federal government on most federal programs.”
“Partnerships don’t work too well when half the team quits,” Boldin said. “By withdrawing all resources and participation in federal gun control schemes, the states can effectively bring them down.”
SB99 rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program. The anti-commandeering doctrine is based primarily on four Supreme Court cases dating back to 1842. Printz v. US serves as the cornerstone.
“We held in New York that Congress cannot compel the States to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Today we hold that Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the States’ officers directly. The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policy making is involved, and no case by case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.”
SB99 does include a few exceptions. It would not apply to the possession of a fully automatic firearm, the enforcement of any federal or state law prohibiting a convicted felon from possessing a firearm, the enforcement of any federal or state law prohibiting a person convicted of domestic violence from possessing a firearm, or the enforcement of a protection order.
An effort to override Bullock’s veto is underway. If you live in Montana, you should contact your state senator and representative and urge them to overturn the veto on HB99. Legislators have until June 11 to mail their vote in. You can find your legislator HERE. If they have telephone numbers, a phone call is 10 times more effective than an email. If no phone number is listed, send them an email. The legislature is out of session, so calling the capitol will not be effective.