I was astonished to read in today’s Helena Independent Record that Gary Marbut is now publicly threatening (on behalf of Montana’s law enforcement, no less) armed insurrection if the Congress or President imposes regulations on guns that don’t meet his historically inaccurate, misguided, and downright dangerous interpretation of the Second Amendment.
Once again, Marbut stakes out an untenable and entirely irrational position on government regulation of firearms:
I wish to express our unequivocal opposition to any ban on any class or type of firearms, any new registration requirements on any class or types of firearms, any restrictions on manufacture, sale, or possession, of ammunition feeding devices of any configuration or capacity, and any government intrusion into firearm transfers between private citizens.
There simply aren’t enough words to express how badly Marbut and his ilk have misinterpreted the Second Amendment. Of course, the federal government has the authority to regulate guns. They’ve done so since the founding of the republic. Of course, the rights enshrined in the Constitution are subject to the “general welfare” of the nation and the social contract that limits our freedoms in exchange for functioning civil society. Of course, governments have the authority to respond to crises, and if the epidemic of gun violence in this country isn’t a crisis, little else is.
Marbut is wrong about the Founders’ interpretation of the Second Amendment, as Adam Winkler noted in his extensive, academic research about the Second Amendment.
A cursory look at our history demonstrates that Congress has always had (and exercised) the authority to regulate the sale of the most dangerous weapons. Even the NRA, until its takeover by radicals in the 1970s, understood that sensible regulation was permissible.
In the early 1920s, the National Revolver Association—the NRA’s handgun training counterpart—proposed model legislation for states that included requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon, adding five years to a prison sentence if a gun was used in a crime, and banning non-citizens from buying a handgun. They also proposed that gun dealers turn over sales records to police and created a one-day waiting period between buying a gun and getting it—two provisions that the NRA opposes today.
As for “firearm transfers between private citizens,” it’s precisely this murky world of private sales without records that makes enforcing prohibitions on guns getting in the hands of criminals and the mentally ill so difficult.
It’s especially galling that Marbut has chosen to speak for law enforcement officials, who so often have to risk their lives because of the gun-crazed climate Marbut and his friends at the NRA have worked so hard to create. While Marbut believes that law enforcement officials are cowards, I believe they understand the need for sensible regulation of firearms.
Marbut builds to a crescendo of ill-informed fearmongering when he writes:
Since Montana law enforcement personnel are unlikely to enforce any such restrictions, the effect of passage of such restrictions would ultimately be for federal officers to come to Montana to enforce them. Because most Montanans will simply not comply with any new federal restraints on a right they have reserved specifically from government interference, the obvious result would be armed conflict between Montanans and federal enforcers.
In recent history, the kinds of people who have been involved with armed conflict with federal law enforcement in Montana are the kind of people Marbut speaks for: anti-government zealots who believe they can hole up on compounds and ignore the rule of law because it conflicts with their misguided view of the Constitution.
It is simply astonishing that Marbut would impugn the patriotism of most Montanans who own guns and use them responsibly, Montanans who understand that sensible regulation of guns not only makes us safer, but better protects our rights.
It’s also fascinating that the Independent Record chose to give prominent coverage to someone whose zealotry exceeds his actual knowledge by a wide margin, but in a sense, I am glad that the paper gave this kind of publicity to the radical views that Marbut espouses.
The more people are exposed to this lunacy, the sooner we’ll adopt sensible gun policy in this country, a country on pace for more annual deaths by gun violence than automobile accidents.