HELENA — A measure aimed at undermining any potential federal ban on assault weapons was endorsed by the Montana Senate on Tuesday as it speeds toward the governor's desk.
House Bill 302 would prohibit local authorities from enforcing any federal ban on certain semi-automatic weapons. Supporters argue it is needed to send a strong message to Congress that the state does not want such a ban.
"I view this bill basically as pushback to the discussion in Washington, D.C.," said state Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls. "It has come to the point where the people are saying enough is enough."
Opponents, led by Democrats, argued that police have opposed the bill because it would charge state and local officers with a state crime if they attempt to enforce a potential federal law.
"I'm for all the guns you want to shoot and all the bullets you want to have, but that is not what this bill is about," said state Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman.
Jent called it a "goofy gun bill" that simply is aimed at creating a voting record that gun groups can tout come election time.
The party-line 29-21 vote could mean the bill faces a tough hurdle when it is sent to Gov. Steve Bullock. So far, the Democrat has not taken a public position on the measure.
In Congress, the proposed ban is still pending before a U.S. Senate committee, where it could receive a vote Thursday. But the measure's passage appears unlikely, with many Democrats — such as Sen. Max Baucus of Montana — opposing it. Recent debate there has focused on expanding background checks.
The Montana measure, aimed at the debate in Washington, D.C., could impact other potential federal legislation. It targets any federal law enacted after January of this year that prohibits, restricts or requires licensure for any particular kind of gun.
Any state or local officer that enforces such a ban would face charges of official misconduct.
The measure, along with two other pro-gun bills, faces a final vote in the Senate on Wednesday. The other measures would allow the use of silencers when hunting wolves, and make concealed weapons permit information confidential.
The Senate will debate another measure Wednesday that would expand the use of silencers to other forms of hunting.
Both Hi-Line senators, Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, and Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, voted against the bill.