Ron Barnett, USA TODAY
A growing number of states are aiming to keep Uncle Sam's hands off their weapons if Congress decides to stiffen gun-control laws in response to last month's deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Eight states - Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming - have adopted laws in recent years that would exempt guns made in the state from federal regulation as long as they remain in the state, according to Jon Griffin of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Twenty-one other states have introduced similar legislation, said Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association. Marbut was the force behind the Montana Firearms Freedom Act of 2009, upon which many other states have patterned their bills. Implementation of Montana's and other laws are on hold pending a 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals decision, Marbut and his attorney, Quentin Rhoades said.
Although the state laws are on the books, Marbut, who runs a website called firearmsfreedomact.com and monitors action in other states said, "I have strongly suggested that people not act according to the Montana law until the legal case is cleared." Other states also are holding back during the court fight, he said.
Marbut bases his argument on the 10th Amendment's dictate that, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
Jessica Leinwand, an attorney for the federal government, argued in a 2010 hearing on the Montana case that Congress' authority to regulate interstate commerce gives it the power to regulate guns across the nation, saying, "it's unrealistic to think that these guns won't leave the state of Montana."
Allowing such laws to stand "would leave a gaping hole in federal firearms regulation," she said, according to the court transcript.
For Marbut, the federal government's use of the Constitution's much-debated commerce clause - which gives Congress the right to regulate commerce "among the several states," - is the larger issue.
"In general, people don't like the overbearing federal government sticking its nose in everybody's business," he said.
Jonathan Lowry, director of the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the courts have been clear that states can't exempt themselves from federal regulation of guns because it would have ramifications across state lines.
South Carolina Republican state Sen. Lee Bright last month introduced for the third year in a row a Firearms Freedom bill that he said is patterned after Montana's. He said he believes it has a better chance of being adopted this year because of fears that Washington will pass more restrictive gun laws.
Shopping for a new handgun at Sharpshooters Gun Club and Range in Greenville, S.C., Margaret Ellis expressed support for the Firearms Freedom bill: "If we can keep the federal government out of anything, I'd prefer that." But at the State Farmers Market across the street, Connie Wagar called Bright's bill "a bad idea," saying it would likely open the door to unregistered guns falling into the hands of criminals.
Barnett also reports for The Greenville News