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HELENA, Mont. -- The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is joining the federal government's fight to stop states, including South Carolina, that want to exempt themselves from national gun control laws, arguing that the effort threatens public safety.

The gun control advocates and the U.S. Department of Justice filed new arguments Tuesday in the ongoing legal battle over federal gun control and states' rights.

The issue was sparked with the "firearm freedoms act" first enacted in Montana last year and subsequently in several other states, and is leading to a constitutional showdown over the reach of Congress into state borders.

The states argue that 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.

The Brady Center said the effort is misguided and threatens public safety by making it easier for dangerous people to get guns and potentially allowing "the sale of virtually untraceable firearms."

The group was joined by other gun control advocates, including the Montana Human Rights Network, which argued that states with loose gun laws could allow the sale of guns to criminals who could then take them across state lines.

The Justice Department argued that the courts already have decided that Congress, with its power to regulate interstate commerce, can set standards on such items as guns. It pointed to a case where the court ruled that a federal ban on marijuana pre-empted state rules.

"That concern is no less important here, where an illegal market for firearms exists across state lines," the federal government's court brief said in asking for a quick dismissal. "In essence, Montana will create weapons that are readily accessible to those who seek to avoid a background check, with no record of transaction and no traceable markings."