BOZEMAN, Mont. (CN) - A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit brought by gun-rights advocates seeking a declaration that Montana law allows them to make and sell guns without abiding by federal regulations.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula adopted a federal magistrate's recommendation to toss the lawsuit for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, because the commerce clause grants Congress the power to regulate firearms.
The Montana Shooting Sports Association, the Second Amendment Foundation and resident Gary Marbut had asked Molloy to declare that they could legally make and sell firearms under the 2009 Montana Firearms Freedom Act without complying with federal laws, including licensing and registration requirements.
The state law declares that a "personal firearm, a firearm accessory, or ammunition that is manufactured commercially or privately in Montana and that remains within the borders of Montana is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of congress (sic) to regulate interstate commerce."
But the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives held a different view. It warned Marbut in response to his request for clarification that a violation of the federal Gun Control Act or the National Firearms Act "could lead to ... potential criminal prosecution."
To the extent that the state law conflicts with federal gun laws and regulations, federal law trumps the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, the ATF explained.
Marbut and other gun-rights advocates argued that this answer violates the 10th Amendment, which limits the federal government's authority to the powers specifically outlined in the Constitution.
Molloy's dismissal sides with the Department of Justice, which argued that the Constitution's commerce clause grants Congress the ability to regulate guns -- even those that never leave Montana.
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