HELENA, Mont. — A group of states seeking freedom from federal gun laws were dealt a blow Wednesday when a federal magistrate recommended dismissal of a lawsuit launched by gun rights advocates who argue Congress has overstepped its bounds with gun control.
The magistrate sided with the U.S. Department of Justice, which says courts have already decided that Congress can set standards on such items as guns through its power to regulate interstate commerce. The recommendation now goes to the federal judge in Missoula hearing the case – and even gun rights advocates recognized it is likely he will side with the magistrate.
The issue was launched last year with "firearm freedoms act" laws backed by gun advocates in Montana and led to a lawsuit filed by gun advocates with the backing of Montana, Utah, Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia.
The states argue they should decide which rules, if any, would control the sale and purchase of guns and paraphernalia made inside their borders. They say the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution assures that the federal government only has those powers that are specifically given to it by the U.S. Constitution.
Federal magistrate Jeremiah Lynch beat back that argument in his recommendation dated Tuesday.
"Because federal firearms laws are a valid exercise of Congress' power under the Commerce Clause as applied to the intrastate activities contemplated by the act, there is no 10th Amendment violation in this case," Lynch wrote.
Lynch also challenged the standing of Gary Marbut and his Montana Shooting Sports Association to file the lawsuit in the first place.
Gun control advocates hailed the initial ruling.
"The gun lobby's so-called 'freedom' acts would threaten public safety by circumventing lifesaving Federal laws," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. "The Magistrate's recommendation was correct that the lawsuit, and the Act itself, should be thrown out."
Marbut said he is not surprised by the magistrate's recommendation, and believes it is likely that Federal Judge Donald Molloy will agree with his magistrate.
"We expected an adverse ruling in district court, which is fine, because it will give us control of the appeals process. We need to get in front of the Supreme Court," Marbut said. "Truly we need to overturn a half century of Commerce Clause precedent and only the Supreme Court can do that."