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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Guns made and kept in Utah would be exempt from federal regulations under a measure passed by the Utah Legislature Wednesday, despite concerns over an expensive legal fight at a time when the budget is already stretched thin.
Senate Bill 11 was passed by the Utah House 56-17.
The proposal mirrors one Montana signed into law last year that's intended to trigger a federal court battle. The measures would allow guns made in the respective states to be exempt from federal gun registration rules like background checks and dealer-licensing.
The goal is to circumvent federal authority over interstate commerce, the legal basis for most gun regulation in the U.S.
In the process, it could lead to small arms dealers in the state operating with little to no oversight.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, an Orem Republican, has said her bill is part of a broader effort to send a message to Congress that the federal government is overstepping its bounds.
Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, said the bill isn't just about guns. It's also about state's rights, he said.
The House sponsor of the proposal, Sandstrom said other states have similar bills in the works and he's been speaking with legislators across the nation who are actively involved.
The bill now goes to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. Spokeswoman Angie Welling said Herbert supports legislative efforts to reaffirm states' rights, but is concerned about the possible legal costs that would go with constitutional challenges.
One thing that Sandstrom wants the governor to keep in mind is the popular support he says he's seen for the legislation.
"I think the governor better think long and hard about this bill because I don't think he truly understands the depth and commitment that people have in this state to seeing it going forward," he said.
Democratic lawmakers urged the House Wednesday to vote against the measure on both fiscal and constitutional grounds.
They argued that Utah's expected $700 million budget shortfall in 2011 should make the state uncomfortable about possibly getting roped into a pricey legal battle.
"I'm looking at our budget for next year and the drastic disabling cuts," Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake City, said. "I think it's advantageous to allow Montana to be the laboratory for this experiment."
That process has already begun.
The Department of Justice, in a brief filed last month, asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed last year by gun advocates in Montana who argued the state should decide which rules, if any, would control the sale and purchase of guns and paraphernalia made in Montana.
The brief said the 1934 National Firearms Act was first put in place to regulate guns that could be "used readily and efficiently by criminals or gangsters."
Congress followed it in 1968 with a gun control act aimed at decreasing serious crime, and further strengthened its control over interstate commerce, the brief said.
Those laws and others all mean to keep tabs on guns that easily pass between state borders, the Justice Department argued.
Rep. Brian King pointed to the legal advice included in the bill that it "is highly likely to be held unconstitutional."
"This is madness," the Salt Lake City Democrat said. "I don't think this is a close call."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)