HELENA — A federal appeals court on Friday ruled against state laws designed to buck federal gun rules — but advocates welcomed the court's decision for leaving open the possibility of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday agreed with a lower court's decision against the 2009 Montana Firearms Freedom Act, which also has been adopted in other pro-gun states. The laws attempt to declare that federal firearms regulations don't apply to guns made and kept in that state.
The Justice Department successfully argued that the courts have already decided Congress can use its power to regulate interstate commerce to set standards on such items as guns. Some gun control advocates sided with the federal argument, saying that "firearm freedom acts" would allow felons to obtain guns without background checks and make it harder to trace guns used in crimes.
The Montana Shooting Sports Association said it had expected the appeals court would rule against the law.
The group's president, Gary Marbut, argued in the case that he wanted to manufacture a small, bolt-action youth-model rifle called the "Montana Buckaroo" for sale in Montana. The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms pre-emptively told Marbut such a gun would be illegal under Montana law.
"This was about as good of a ruling as we could have expected from the 9th Circuit. We must get to the U.S. Supreme Court to accomplish our goal of overturning 70 years of flawed Supreme Court rulings on the interstate commerce clause," Marbut said in a release. "Only the Supreme Court can overturn Supreme Court precedent."
The state of Montana has intervened in support of its law. The case also attracted the support of Utah, Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Marbut said the federal government has become a "monster," that abuses the interstate commerce clause to intrude on states.
The appeals court left open the possibility of an appeal by agreeing with Marbut that it would cost him money — and potentially customers, as he argued — to comply with federal firearms regulations.
But the court also said past decisions give the government the power to regulate guns. It pointed to a case that concluded homemade machine guns could affect the regulated interstate market of machine guns.
"But even if Marbut never sells the Buckaroo outside of Montana, Congress could rationally conclude that unlicensed firearms would make their way into the interstate market," the appeals court wrote. "This result does not change because the Buckaroo will bear a 'Made in Montana' stamp to distinguish it from firearms that may be sold in the interstate market."