Calling it a “threat to public safety,” a coalition of Montana and national anti-gun groups urged a federal court Tuesday to invalidate a state law that is at the heart of a national debate over the right to bear arms.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed written arguments in U.S. District Court in Missoula, asking that the Montana Firearms Freedom Act be struck down as unconstitutional. Among the groups joining the Brady Center were Montanans Against Gun Violence, the Montana Human Rights Network and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.

The law, passed by the state Legislature last year and signed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer, would exempt from federal regulation guns that are manufactured in the state and stay within its borders. The U.S. Justice Department, which has said the state cannot exempt itself from federal gun laws, asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit brought by gun rights supporters asking the court to uphold the Montana law.

The states argue they should decide which rules, if any, would control the sale and purchase of guns and paraphernalia made inside their borders. The state would then be exempt from rules on federal gun registration, background checks and dealer-licensing.

Attorneys general in Montana, Utah, Alabama, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wyoming and West Virginia subsequently signed on to help the gun advocates who launched the lawsuit last fall.

Supporters say guns that don’t cross state lines shouldn’t be regulated by the federal government. Gun-control advocates counter that the law allows unlimited sales of virtually untraceable firearms without background checks or records of sale, and undermines other laws, such as gun-free school zones and bans of handgun sales to minors, which are designed to protect the public.

“This law is unconstitutional, misguided and a threat to public safety and national security,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Center. “This law would eliminate Brady background checks in Montana, making it easier for dangerous people to get guns, while allowing the sale of virtually untraceable firearms.”

Source: Ledyard King for Great Falls Tribune.

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