Watershed gun decision cheered in Montana

Lee State Bureau

by Jennifer McKee

HELENA — Montana leaders lauded a U.S. Supreme Court decision Monday upholding individual gun rights, but one of the state’s top gun rights activists said the ruling is not as important here, as Montana already has strong gun rights protections.

“We’re not as desperate as they might be in Illinois or Massachusetts,” said Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association and one of the state’s leading gun rights advocates.

In McDonald v. Chicago, the high court ruled 5-4 Monday that state and local governments cannot pass laws or ordinances that infringe upon the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., one of two key sponsors of pending legislation that would end some local gun control measures in Washington, D.C., called the decision a “major victory for America’s gun owners.”

Tester and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, were the co-authors of the friend-of-the-court brief that Congress filed with the Supreme Court in McDonald v. Chicago.

“Today, we ensured that law-abiding folks have the same Second Amendment rights no matter where in America they live,” Tester said.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., likewise praised the ruling, saying Monday was “a big day for protecting Second Amendment rights.”

Montana’s lone congressman, Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg, also applauded the court.

“I have no doubt that progressive interest groups will maintain their assault on the Second Amendment, and it is incumbent upon gun owners to keep up the fight,” he said.

The high court has previously ruled that federal enclaves, like Washington, D.C., could not pass ordinances infringing on the right of gun ownership. Monday’s decision expanded that to all governments.

Marbut said the ruling is important, but he said the win for Montana’s gun owners was more philosophical and theoretical.

Montana’s constitution already enshrines the right of individuals to own guns, and the state has some of the most sweeping gun rights laws in the country. Monday’s ruling is important because it extends Second Amendment protections nationwide, he said, and protects Montana gun owners should the tide ever turn here on gun rights.

But the ruling is most relevant, Marbut said, for citizens who live in cities or states with restrictions on gun ownership.

Gun rights in Montana have been part of the state’s constitution since territorial times, Marbut said, and “there is no confusion about it.” 

He said the court decision offered an interesting history of gun control in America, which, according to Justice Samuel Alito, began in the South after the Civil War when white leaders tried to disarm African Americans.