Montana's top gun-rights advocate has a national impact

  • Gary Marbut

    Camillia Lanham
 

Guns are Gary Marbut’s life. A self-employed, self-sufficient jack-of-all-trades who lives outside of Missoula, Mont., Marbut says that if he didn’t cast his own bullets, he couldn’t afford to shoot as much as he does: 10,000 to 15,000 rounds per year.

He shoots in both rifle and handgun competitions, teaches concealed weapons classes (he's had about 3,500 students), manufactures target equipment, and hunts elk with a .44 Magnum revolver, because it's more challenging: He has to "sneak-creep" to within 50 yards of an elk to take a shot. In 1989, Marbut also founded what is arguably the most assertive state-level gun-rights group, the Montana Sports Shooting Association. He says his gun-rights advocacy is partly about "individual and personal freedom," and he has been the main leader pushing "55 pro-gun, pro-hunting bills" through the Montana Legislature.

During every session of the Montana Legislature, as president of MSSA, Marbut spearheads the group's lobbying effort for pro-gun rights legislation. He has entrenched himself in this kind of gun battle for more than 20 years, and earned national recognition in 2009 by successfully pushing for passage of the Montana Firearms Freedom Act.

That law, which Marbut wrote and was sponsored by Joel Boniek, R-Livingston, and five other state legislators, declares that any firearm made in Montana that is sold within state borders is exempt from federal firearms regulations: Montanans could sell those guns without the federal license for firearms sellers, and buy them without going through federal background checks.

Marbut based the law on his interpretation of a section in the U.S. Constitution called the Interstate Commerce Clause, which enables Congress to regulate commerce passing over state lines. Marbut and some other gun-rights advocates say the Commerce Clause means that Congress can't regulate commerce that occurs only within a state.

Marbut, who grew up on a 5,000-acre cattle ranch outside of Missoula, lived in Alaska for 10 years. There he taught emergency medicine and was an emergency medical coordinator for rural areas outside Fairbanks. His teaching experience "morphed into" his work for gun rights, he says, since that work is also about "how to teach people to enforce their choice not to be victims."

Marbut's idea that states can avoid federal arms regulations has caught on: Legislatures in seven other states, mostly in the West -- Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, South Dakota and Tennessee -- have followed Montana’s lead by passing their own versions of a Firearms Freedom Act, in effect mounting a fundamental challenge to federal authority. At least 20 other states have tried unsuccessfully to pass similar laws.

But several U.S. Supreme Court rulings in the past have held that the Commerce Clause allows Congress to regulate some matters that occur only within a state's boundaries, such as medical marijuana and guns. That's also the position of the federal agency that regulates guns -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives -- and the U.S. Department of Justice.

It's become a courtroom showdown: Marbut, the MSSA, and several states filed suit against the feds, demanding that the Firearms Freedom Act be carried out. U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy in Missoula dismissed the case in 2010, saying that the Commerce Clause grants Congress the power to regulate firearms, period. Marbut and other plaintiffs took the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, where it is waiting to be argued.

Marbut expects that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will rule against him, but his goal is to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservative justices have a 5-4 advantage; he hopes for a nationwide ruling severely restricting federal authority. He says the National Rifle Association is not part of the lawsuit yet because "the NRA is never too comfortable pushing the edge of the envelope."

Meanwhile, Marbut continued to lobby the Montana Legislature this year. He was involved in presenting 25 bills, one of which sought to allow people in Montana to carry concealed weapons in cities without a concealed-weapons permit. (State law already allows people to carry concealed weapons without a permit outside city limits.) The Republican-controlled Legislature passed that bill, but Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a pro-gun Democrat, thought it went too far and vetoed it.

High Country News Classifieds
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • COMMUNICATIONS ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Position Title: Communications Associate Director Location: Flexible within the Western U.S., Durango, CO preferred Position reports to: Senior Communications Director The Conservation Lands Foundation (CLF)...
  • HISTORIC HOTEL & CAFE
    For Sale, 600k, Centennial Wyoming, 6 suites plus 2 bed, 2 bath apartment. www.themountainviewhotel.com Make this your home or buy a turn key hotel [email protected]
  • MAJOR GIFTS OFFICER
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Major Gifts Officer to join our...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • VICE PRESIDENT, LANDSCAPE CONSERVATION
    Basic Summary: The Vice President for Landscape Conservation is based in the Washington, D.C., headquarters and oversees Defenders' work to promote landscape-scale wildlife conservation, focusing...
  • BRISTOL BAY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Seeking a program director responsible for developing and implementing all aspects of the Alaska Chapter's priority strategy for conservation in the Bristol Bay region of...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The National Bighorn Sheep Center is looking for an Executive Director to take us forward into the new decade with continued strong leadership and vision:...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Powder Basin Watershed Council, based in Baker City, Oregon, seeks a new Executive Director with a passion for rural communities, water, and working lands....
  • CLEAN ENERGY PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Type: Permanent, fulltime Reports to: Executive Director Travel: Some overnight travel, both in-state and out-of-state required Compensation (beginning): $44,000 to 46,500/yr., DOE plus excellent benefits...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, based in Ely, Nevada is looking for a new executive director to replace the long-time executive director who is retiring at...
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -
  • LISA MACKEY PHOTOGRAPHY
    Fine Art Gicle Printing. Photo papers, fine art papers, canvas. Widths up to 44". Art printing by an artist.
  • LOG HOME IN THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Beautiful hand built log home in the heart of the Gila Wilderness on five acres. Please email for PDF of pictures and a full description.
  • CARETAKER
    2.0 acre homestead needing year-round caretaker in NE Oregon. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • SEEKING PROPERTY FOR BISON HERD
    Seeking additional properties for a herd of 1,000 AUM minimum. Interested in partnering with landowners looking to engage in commercial and/or conservation bison ranching. Location...
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.