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From our cold, dead hands department: Two months after the Bush administration slyly reversed decades of federal gun policy with a paragraph buried in a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court, 17 state attorneys general have come out in support of the move, including Montana’s own Mike “Lock and Load” McGrath.

The feds have traditionally interpreted the Second Amendment to mean that gun ownership rights are in some way derived from the maintenance of regulated state militias. A Supreme Court ruling in 1939 helped clarify that point.

In May, however, Solicitor General Ted Olson wrote in a brief in the case Emerson v. United States that the government’s new position “is that the Second Amendment more broadly protects the rights of individuals.”

The change delighted the National Rifle Association, to whom Ashcroft had written a year earlier expressing the same sentiment. Needless to say, it also outraged gun control groups, who believe the interpretation weakens the government’s ability to enact gun restricting laws.

So, why did McGrath sign on? The new interpretation is the correct one, he says, and Montana is a good example of why. “For many Montanans, hunting is a family tradition,” he says in a written statement. “We have a strong hunting heritage in this state. The use and control of firearms by individuals is the basis of that tradition.”

It may also have something to do with the push by Montana Democrats to shake their image as gun control advocates, which some say is partly to blame for recent electoral losses. Montana Democratic Party Chairman Bob Ream has already been working hard to show that Big Sky Dems care about protecting gun rights, too, and is even helping Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe spread the word as part of the national Democrats’ “Rural Initiative.” McGrath, of course, is one of the highest profile Democrats in Montana.

Of course, it could also be a holdover from McGrath’s days as Lewis & Clark County attorney, which included the arrest of the Unabomber. Which makes us wonder, in light of recent headlines, if the new NRA slogan should be: “Guns don’t kill people, mailboxes do.”

Speaking of being blown away…You may have heard that two new Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons are scheduled to be rousted from their Cretaceous beds this summer by a crew of experts from the Smithsonian Institution. But did you know that it was exactly 100 years ago, in 1902, that the first T. rex skeleton ever was discovered in Montana by fossil-hunter Barnum Brown?

Brown, a paleontologist for the American Museum of Natural History, wandered into the Montana badlands in Garfield County near Jordan. He made his astonishing discovery in a layer of buff-colored sandstone on one of the area’s innumerable sun-baked ridges, along the ancient shore of an inland sea that covered Montana some 70 million years ago. Between this mostly complete skeleton and a second one unearthed in 1908, the museum had the earliest and most complete picture of the “king tyrant lizard” of any museum in the world.

Brown, it seems, was something of a strange old fossil himself. A talented ballroom dancer and great hit with the ladies, he also wore a tie and topcoat in the field, and very often a full-length fur coat even in warm weather. He died in 1963 at the age of 89, after a career that spanned almost 70 years. So, anyone know if Jack Horner knows how to foxtrot? Just curious if it’s a learned behavior of dinosaur experts, or if it’s in their bones…

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