Last Thursday Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed into law the strongest prohibition yet by any state against accepting “free” used military equipment from the federal government. A month ago New Jersey Chris Christie signed into law prohibiting such “free” used war materiel without express approval from the local governments involved. Montana’s new law outright prohibits any department in the state from receiving drones that are armored or weaponized (or both), military aircraft, grenades or grenade launchers, silencers and “militarized armored vehicles.”

In New Jersey the bill passed both houses unanimously; in Montana the House voted 79-20 in favor while the Senate voted 46-1 in favor. Under the new law police departments remain free to purchase such materiel, but they would have to use their own funds (not federal grants), and they would have to notify the public about the intended purchase at least 14 days in advance.

The difference between the laws was spelled out by Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center:

By making it a local decision, the New Jersey law is a great first step, but the Montana law takes things to the next level. It closes loopholes and covers almost all the bases.

The next step would be to expand the equipment banned, and we’re hopeful that the good people in Montana will work on that in the next session.

The Montana law also makes it clear that the equipment is banned from whatever federal source it might come, not just from the Defense Department’s Section 1033 program. Section 1033 has allowed local police departments to hoover up more than $4 billion of surplus military equipment since 1997. But military surplus offered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under other similar programs is triple that amount, meaning that, thanks to efforts by U.S. government officials to turn local law enforcement agencies into branches of the federal government, local police departments now sport something approaching $15 billion worth of war surplus supplies and equipment.

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