BISMARCK — The North Dakota House of Representatives has approved legislation that would exempt guns and accompanying accessories from federal laws and regulations as long as the products never leave the state. Both supporters and opponents of the proposal framed it as a potential rebellion against the federal government's control over trade.
The lower chamber on Wednesday, Feb. 17, voted 69-23 to send House Bill 1272 to the Senate.
The bill, sponsored by Dickinson Republican Rep. Luke Simons, would apply to guns, accessories and ammunition manufactured in North Dakota that remain within the state's borders. Those goods would no longer be subject to federal law, including registration requirements, though state regulations would still apply.
Many of North Dakota's gun laws already align with federal policies, but Simons' bill would likely legalize the sale and use of bump stocks produced in the state. The accessory, which allows semi-automatic firearms to function similarly to fully automatic weapons, was banned at the federal level in 2018 — a year after an attacker used one in a Las Vegas shooting that left 60 dead.
Skeptical lawmakers also noted the bill could allow residents to legally manufacture unregulated guns or accessories using 3-D printers.
Simons said his bill is especially relevant following the election of Democratic President Joe Biden, who campaigned on ending the manufacturing and sale of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.
"I'm tired of playing games with the federal government telling me what I can and cannot own in my own free land," Simons said.
Rep. Rick Becker, a Bismarck Republican and the founder of the ultra-conservative Bastiat Caucus, said the bill is needed to counter the federal government's overly broad interpretation of a clause in the U.S. Constitution that gives it control over interstate commerce.
Fargo Republican Rep. Mary Johnson said states have to "fight back" against the now-bloated federal government, which has stolen authority over trade from the states during the last century.
Another Fargo Republican, Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, rejected the bill, noting Montana's legal challenge of the interstate commerce clause was shot down after a court found in 2013 that guns made in the state could easily end up outside its borders. Roers Jones also expressed concern that there would be no way to keep North Dakota guns from leaving the state.
Mandan Republican Rep. Todd Porter voted against the bill because he worried it would give North Dakotans "a false sense of security." Residents would not be protected from federal prosecution for owning a weapon or accessory that is allowed in the state but federally illegal, Porter said.
The bill comes amid a flurry of GOP-led legislation that would loosen gun laws in the state. The House will soon consider bills that aim to expand the "castle" law and concealed carry in public buildings.