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062212 gary and peter sagal on range.jpg

Gary Marbut, left, and NPR host Peter Sagal fire rounds at a shooting range in Missoula last summer.

Courtesy of Christopher Buchanan/Insignia Films

Peter Sagal’s shot with a Glock is as sharp as his wit, and that’s according to none other than Montana marksman Gary Marbut.

Sagal, host of National Public Radio’s news quiz show “Wait, Wait ... Don’t Tell Me!” was in Missoula this week filming with Marbut for a documentary about the U.S. Constitution. Marbut, of course, holds dear the right to bear arms, and he gave a lesson in “practical pistol” shooting to Sagal.

“The idea is that I’m traveling around the country talking to various people like Gary who have very personal, very strong feelings about the Constitution and how it affects their lives,” Sagal said in a Thursday telephone interview.

A project of Insignia Films, the documentary features Sagal riding a Harley-Davidson Road King, and it explores the “4,418 words that made America.” It’s being made in partnership with Twin Cities Public Television and slated to air in April 2013 on PBS.

About three years ago, Sagal got a call from former classmate and now film director Stephen Ives, who wanted to create a story about the Constitution. Instead of just talking with scholars behind desks, though, the filmmaker wanted to feature the popular radio host talking with people whose lives are affected by the supreme law of the land.

“They thought that by going with me, it might have a slightly, shall we say, lighter tone,” said Sagal, who used to ride motorcycles when he was younger.

Sagal said yes, and Wednesday, the crew filmed in Missoula at Marbut’s home and at the Deer Creek Shooting Center. The radio man isn’t sure if he’ll do more film shooting in Montana, but as far as Marbut is concerned, the lesson in pistol shooting took.

Marbut teaches firearms safety and shoots competitively, and he offered Sagal a compressed version of his typical instruction. Both used Glocks in the shooting drills.

“In my firearms instruction, I find those easy to train with, and I think they’re a good firearm to use for that purpose,” Marbut said.

Sagal shot well, he said, and Sagal agreed. He went from “zero to gunnery” in two hours, and his only error was shooting a hostage – or, rather, a paper silhouette of a hostage.

“But I maintained that the hostage moved at the last second. She twitched,” Sagal said.

***

Their conversation wasn’t so much about the Second Amendment as it was about the Commerce Clause. Marbut wrote the Firearms Freedom Act, which “declares that any firearms made and retained in-state are beyond the authority of Congress under its constitutional power to regulate commerce among the states,” according to Marbut’s website on the topic.

The Montana Legislature adopted the law in 2009, and Marbut is using it to challenge the powers of Congress under the Commerce Clause. The case is before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and on its way to the U.S. Supreme Court in an effort to roll back a history of bad precedent, Marbut said.

One good precedent? Shooting guns in Montana.

“Man, shooting guns is fun,” Sagal said.

He said he knows he doesn’t need to say so to Montanans, but anyone who wants to talk about firearms needs to understand that basic fact, constitutional issues aside. And if Sagal wants to keep shooting back home in Chicago, Marbut offered tips.

“I told him how he could locate and get in contact with other practical pistol clubs in his area,” Marbut said.

On the news quiz, Sagal’s quick wit is on full display, and he’s “obligated to be funny.” He’s still himself in the documentary, but the tone is different, he said.

“It’s a real pleasure for me to actually express genuine curiosity, to talk to somebody seriously about their issues. Like Gary,” Sagal said.

On Thursday afternoon, Sagal was headed to San Francisco, where he planned to talk with people who sell medical marijuana about how the Constitution affects their work. For the film, he also plans to interview Kristin Perry and the woman she wants to marry; Perry is a plaintiff in Perry v. Brown, a marriage equality case likely headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to a description of the film by Insignia, the documentary will turn “the universally dreaded civic lesson on its head to create an entertaining, illuminating, and thought-provoking journey through the 4,418 words that made America.”

But along with lively scenes at the shooting range, the film may have introspective moments, too. As part of the project, Sagal said he visited with Akhil Reed Amar, a Yale law professor he considers “the world’s greatest living authority on the Constitution,” if there is one.

On his blog, at PeterSagal.com, he quotes Amar talking about how he feels about the Constitution:

“My relationship to this thing begins the day I was born,” Amar said in a quote on Sagal’s website. “... My parents were not U.S. citizens. They came over to go to medical school, and they were supposed to go back. But because of this document, the day I was born – I’m a U.S. citizen! I’m protected by this! I have a right to stay!

“So my relationship to this is really intimate. This is the document that makes me an American. That’s amazing. That’s a great gift.”

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller @missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

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