Either Montana Gov. Steve Bullock doesn’t understand the constitutional relationship between his state and the federal government, or he’s a liar.

On Friday, Bullock vetoed a bill that would have prohibited state and local agencies in Montana from enforcing any future federal gun laws.

Rep. Art Wittich, sponsored HB203. The bill banned the state “from enforcing, assisting in the enforcement of or otherwise cooperating in the enforcement of” a federal act enacted on or after Jan. 1, 2015 that “prohibits, restricts, or requires individual licensure for ownership, possession, transfer, or use of any firearm or any magazine or other ammunition feeding device.”

Bullock vetoed the bill, saying it “puts law enforcement officers in the position of violating laws they have sworn to uphold.”

To put it bluntly, Bullock is full of crap. It does no such thing.

The governor vetoed a similar bill in 2013 and gave the same reason.

He was wrong then.

He’s still wrong now.

HB203 would not create some kind of moral dilemma for Montana cops. In fact, Bullock makes an absolutely absurd assertion when he claims the bill would put law enforcement officers in a position of “violating laws.” How does leaving the enforcement of federal statutes to federal law enforcement violate any law?

Bullock pretends Montana operates under some kind of sacred obligation to enforce every federal law that comes down the pike from Washington D.C.

It does not.

Nothing says states must enforce federal laws.



In fact, the Supreme Court has consistently held the exact opposite under a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. The federal government cannot commandeer state resources or require state personnel to implement any federal act or enforce any federal law.

Bullock must know this. Heck, virtually everybody involved in the political or legal process knows this. We pointed this fact out to him two years ago. Since then, legislators from across the political spectrum have introduced hundreds of bills based on the anti-commandeering doctrine, from measures to prohibit state cooperation with federal immigration enforcement to bills that would end state support for implementation of Obamacare. Last year, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a bill almost identical to HB203 into law.

Nobody of any significance questions the legal basis of any of these bills. The anti-commandeering doctrine stands as “settled law.” As noted constitutional scholar Randy Barnett put it, “State governments are free to refrain from cooperating with federal authorities if they so choose. In general, states cannot attack federal operations, but that’s not the same as refusing to help.”

The legal principle dates back to 1842. Justice Joseph Story held in Prigg v. Pennsylvania that the federal government could not require states to enforce the federal fugitive slave act.

The fundamental principle applicable to all cases of this sort, would seem to be, that where the end is required, the means are given; and where the duty is enjoined, the ability to perform it is contemplated to exist on the part of the functionaries to whom it is entrusted. The [fugitive slave] clause is found in the national Constitution, and not in that of any state. It does not point out any state functionaries, or any state action to carry its provisions into effect. The states cannot, therefore, be compelled to enforce them; and it might well be deemed an unconstitutional exercise of the power of interpretation, to insist that the states are bound to provide means to carry into effect the duties of the national government, nowhere delegated or instrusted to them by the Constitution.

Three more major SCOTUS decision built on the Story’s doctrine.

In New York v. United States (1992) the Court ruled that Congress couldn’t require states to enact specified waste disposal regulations.

In Printz v. United States (1997), the Court ruled that the federal government could not command state law enforcement authorities to conduct background checks on prospective handgun purchasers. Justice Scalia summed up the anti commandeering doctrine in the majority opinion.

The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policymaking is involved, and no case-by-case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty.

And in the 2012 case, National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, the Supreme Court ruled that a significant expansion of Medicaid, was not a valid exercise of Congress’s spending power, as it would coerce states to either accept the expansion or risk losing existing Medicaid funding.

Nobody with a clue questions the anti-commandeering doctrine. So, either Bullock doesn’t have a clue, or he is lying because he has an anti-gun political agenda, doesn’t want to have to explain it to Montana voters and hopes the average person won’t know he’s making stuff up that contradicts 173 years of Supreme Court jurisprudence.

You decide which.

Mike Maharrey