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Montana Politics The Media

Gary Marbut’s Rootin’-Tootin’, Insurrectionist Rant in the Independent Record

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.

Consider this:

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.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Perhaps when Marbut penned his letter he was unaware of the letter penned by Baucus and Tester to Holder back in 2009:

    Dear Attorney General Holder:

    This letter is in regards to your recent comments suggesting the reinstatement of the ban on
    assault weapons. We oppose reinstating the ban on the sale of assault weapons, and we call on
    the Department of Justice to enforce existing laws before it considers imposing any new
    restrictions on gun ownership.

    Your comments noted increased violence among international drug traffickers as a reason to
    reexamine the ban on assault weapons within this country; however, this statement fails to
    acknowledge laws already in place that work to address this issue. Under current law, both
    transferring a firearm to someone knowing that it will be used to commit a violent or
    drug-trafficking crime as well as possessing a firearm in furtherance of a Federal drug
    trafficking crime are already federal felonies punishable by imprisonment.

    We will strongly oppose any legislation that will infringe upon the rights of individual gun
    owners. We value our outdoor heritage, and a large part of that is our Second Amendment right to
    keep and bear arms. Passing this heritage down from one generation to the next is a sacred part
    of being a Montanan, and something that we will always fight to protect. In the light of the
    Supreme Court’s landmark ruling of District of Columbia v. Heller, affirming the Second
    Amendment right to bear arms as an individual and constitutionally protected right, we urge you
    to avoid any legislative proposals that would jeopardize the Constitutional right of law-abiding
    Americans to own firearms.

    U.S. Senator Max Baucus
    U.S. Senator Jon Tester

    Seems clear that they will oppose ANY infringement “…upon the rights of individual gun
    owners. We value our outdoor heritage, and a large part of that is our Second Amendment right to
    keep and bear arms.”

    • Craig – there is a big difference between opposing new legislation as a Senator, and making grave warnings that violence will result from the passage of such legislation. Protecting the access of every law abiding citizens to a gun is far different than demanding that every person be able to buy a gun from whoever without restriction. If I’m selling a gun, I need all of two minutes and a smartphone to find out if that person is a registered sexual of violent offender. Why is that not a requirement?

      Moreover, Max and Jon are wrong. The laws preventing a person from selling guns to drug dealers are not even close to sufficient. A gun dealer need merely claim ignorance of the destination of the guns he or she is selling. At very least a requirement to track those who buy multiple semi-automatic rifles in a given period would make it more difficult for criminal groups to keep themselves stocked with US guns.

  • Could you point out the portion of that letter which threatens an armed response or which suggest there can be NO further federal regulation of arms?

    I can’t seem to find them, no matter how often you post the same thing.

  • Can you point out the threat you claim is in Marbut’s letter as opposed to a statement of “what is so” –Montanans will not willing turn over their armaments? As to your second part of your question, what part of opposing ANY infringement that you don’t understand in the context presented?

    • This is a crazy idea, Craig, but imagine this. A sensible restriction on guns could certainly not infringe on the Second Amendment. Every U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that. In the same way, a federal law could restrict speech without being an infringement on the First Amendment unless, of course, you believe there should be no federal restrictions on the publication and distribution of child pornography.

      Asserting, entirely without evidence, that the “obvious result would be armed conflict between Montanans and federal enforcers” seems a touch threatening to me. It’s also insane.

      • Don, I think Marbut may have made a better point in his letter merely asking Tester to reaffirm his position in his 2009 letter AND what appears on Tester’s website.

        Protecting Gun Rights

        Jon is a staunch supporter of gun rights for law-abiding Americans and has strengthened those rights as a U.S. Senator.

        Jon strongly believes that the rights guaranteed to Americans under the Second Amendment apply regardless of where in America they live.

        As a third-generation Montanan and Chairman of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, Jon understands firearms are a part of Montana’s heritage. Jon has an A-rating from the NRA and he’s the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s “Legislator of the Year.”

        Jon has and will continue to stand up to any president or politician who threatens America’s Second Amendment rights.

        Seems like he is quite proud of his NRA rating.

        • …and it seems like both Tester and Baucus are not backing away from their 2nd Amendment support.

          Senator Jon Tester issued this statement today after the Presidents plan was unveiled:
          “As Congress considers ways to address gun violence, we must look at all aspects of this issue. Our priority must be keeping all Americans–especially our kids–safe. I will look closely at all proposals on the table, but we must use common sense and respect our Constitution.”

          Montana’s senior Senator Max Baucus also shared his thoughts in a statement today:
          “Recent tragedies have shaken all of us, and everyone wants to do their part to protect our children and communities from violence of all kinds. Enforcing the laws we already have on the books is good first step, and it’s clear more needs to be done to address access to mental health care. Before passing new laws, we need a thoughtful debate that respects responsible, law-abiding gun owners in Montana instead of a one-size-fits all directives from Washington.”

          • It seems like they are saying we need to balance the Second Amendment and the safety of American children. I don’t see any calls for MT law enforcement to engage in firefights with federal officials.

            And that’s the difference. Ultimately, I might disagree with what Baucus and Tester decide. Hell, I probably will. But at least their arguments are rational.

            • FWIW, I for one want greater restriction on who get’s to possess a firearm. I look to see some common sense steps. However, I am under no delusions that such measures would have changed either Sandy or Portland area shootings since the shooters stole the weapons.

              A couple of years ago a friend of mine shot himself in his backyard. He was depressed. We had gone pheasant hunting just a month earlier. But if he hadn’t a shotgun to do the deed I’m convinced he would have sucked a tailpipe. I remember cracking jokes with him and seeing a smile finally cross his face. I say this because hunting did provide an outlet for his crushing depression. I don’t know what else I could have done other than my vane attempt to lighten his load. People who suffer depression come in all sizes. They shouldn’t be stigmatized as to not being able to own a firearm. How to separate the wheat from the chaff, I don’t know. But it haunts me.

  • Gary Marbut is not impugning the patriotism of most Montanans who own guns and use them responsibly. He is in fact speaking what we all are thinking. Being Montanan, myself, I can say that most Montanans are usually a people of few words, long on work, highly invested in Montana life of which gun culture and the principles represented by the Constitution both state and national are representative of. Your commentary about what Gary said is without understanding and poorly spoken. Please do not speak for us. When we have something to say, we will speak for ourselves. I for one happen to agree with what Gary said. It is wholly congruent with the culture and living principles of Montana.

    • No one is proposing any federal legislation that would take anyone’s guns away; merely limiting the future sales of certain weapons. That’s Marbut’s first nonsense. Secondly, local law enforcement will enforce any future laws, again, because they will likely consist of limiting future sales of semi-automatic weapons. And if he really thinks that they won’t, he should look at how happily law enforcement participated in the Medical Marijuana raids, even though no suspects were charged with violating state law. Finally, even if the Feds outlawed semi-automatics with large clips and retroactively made possession of them a crime, again, highly impossible, the majority of Montanans do not own such weapons, and many Montanans who do would give them up before actively resisting the law.

      So, Marbut is talking fantasies in three ways: First, warning in spite of all evidence that the Federal government is going to ban the ownership of any kind of weapon. Second, his naive belief that our local police will refuse to enforce a Federal law when in fact they have proven more than willing to do so. And finally, in implying that most Montanans own any kind of weapon that is subject to increased regulation.

  • Nowhere in the Second Amendment is gun ownership enshrined.

    The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” was to preserve the Slave Patrol Militias in the Southern States, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that…and we all should be too…Today’s Second Amendment is linked to our nation’s disturbing history of slavery. In the Beginning, there were the Militias. In the South, they were also called the “Slave Patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

  • Wow! Ol’ Gary thinks pretty HIGHLY of himself! Why? Because he’s “intimate” with guns! And he probably is, for I can imagine ol’ Gar sittin’ around in the privacy of his home when no one is looking, and fondling his gun ’til is shoots! YIPeeee! Yippers! THAT is how ol’ Gar became intimate with guns!

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