HELENA – The issues of gun rights and gun violence persist as risky political topics in Montana, but that’s not stopping Democratic U.S. House candidates from talking about it, often in stark terms.
Former state Rep. Kathleen Williams of Bozeman, one of five Democrats competing for the party’s nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte this fall, says she favors restricting the use of semiautomatic “assault rifles” to only “controlled environments,” such as shooting ranges.
“I think it’s time we have an adult conversation about drawing a bright line between legitimate hunting firearms, of which I own several, and weapons for killing,” she said at a debate earlier this month.
Gianforte, strongly supported by the National Rifle Association in his first election last May, has said he opposes any restrictions on gun ownership.
When asked how she’d fare in the general election against opposition from the NRA and Gianforte, Williams said she’s not worried about an “F” rating from the group.
“If they want to come after me and give me and `F,’ then we’ll say that stands for `fearless,’” she told MTN News in an interview.
Williams, Billings attorney John Heenan, former land-trust director Grant Kier of Missoula and Bozeman lawyers John Meyer and Jared Pettinato are competing in the wide-open primary.
Absentee ballots went out May 11 and Election Day is June 5, less than two weeks away.
Williams also wants to enforce universal background checks before someone can buy a firearm.
Heenan and Kier say steps should be taken to combat gun violence, but they’ve not called for restricting ownership of any specific firearm.
“I don’t want to take anybody’s guns away,” Heenan told MTN News. “I want to take Greg Gianforte’s job away.”
However, Heenan said he does favor banning “bump stocks” and requiring background checks for sales of firearms at gun shows. A bump stock is a device used last October by Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas mass murderer, to convert a semiautomatic rifle into the equivalent of a fully automatic weapon, firing multiple rounds in rapid succession.
Heenan also said more money and attention should be spent on mental-health programs and enforcement of current gun laws.
“We need to actually fund (mental-health) programs that will keep guns out of the hands of people who want to do harm,” he said.
Kier said he’s a lifelong hunter and gun owner, but that he’s also a scientist (a geologist), and that some serious, scientific study by federal agencies is needed to examine potential solutions to gun violence. The best solutions may differ from one part of the country to another, he said.
“I think that we need to find Montana solutions and I think we can, and I think people here are reasonable about that,” Kier told MTN News.
He noted that Congress voted earlier this year to repeal the Dickey amendment, a 1996 law that had effectively prevented the U.S. Centers for Disease Control from studying ways to prevent gun violence.
“I’m thrilled that it’s been repealed, but now we need to fund the CDC so that we have good policy decisions that we can present to voters, so they have options,” Kier said.
And then there’s Meyer, an environmental attorney and an avid hunter, both with a bow and a rifle.
At a debate this month, Meyer said if you need an assault-style rifle to hunt, you’re not a good shot, and that if you feel you need one for “fun” – you don’t.
“I think you should stop being such a selfish bitch and think about somebody else,” he said.