HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock, who told CNN Sunday he could support a ban on some semi-automatic “assault weapons,” told Montana reporters Tuesday that any ban should be part of a wider discussion on how to address gun violence.
“Thoughts and prayers aren’t enough at this point,” he said. “I wish we could look at gun-safety issues as more of a public health crisis. … If there are steps that we could take, we really ought to be taking those steps.”
Yet when asked if he would be proposing any such ban or other action at Montana’s next Legislature, in 2019, Bullock said he hadn’t decided.
“We’ve been doing a lot of both the studying and soul-searching, so we may propose legislation,” he told MTN News. “And I think others will propose legislation as well.”
In a statement Tuesday, Montana Republican Party Chair Debra Lamm said Bullock’s comments Sunday showed that he is “another gun-grabbing liberal” who is trying to “court the liberal coastal elites” in his “absurd look at a run for president.”
“That’s a non-starter for Montanans,” she declared.
Bullock, a Democrat mentioned as a possible presidential candidate in 2020, spoke Sunday to CNN’s chief Washington correspondent Jake Tapper, on a remote interview from the state Capitol.
Tapper noted that Bullock wasn’t on the same page as many Democrats on gun control or gun restrictions, and asked whether he would support an “assault weapons ban.”
Bullock said he would, but then launched into comments similar to what he made Tuesday, about how it’s time for the country to examine a variety of steps to prevent or mitigate gun violence.
He said Tuesday that the ban he could support would be on the purchase of semi-automatic weapons with removable clips and a magazine that holds at least 10 bullets, and not semi-automatic traditionally used for hunting.
It wouldn’t involve taking weapons away from anyone who already owns one, he added.
Bullock also told Montana reporter that his comment Sunday isn’t related to his possible run for the presidency, and that he’s felt for some time that the nation needs to take steps to address gun violence.
He said those possible steps include “red flag” laws that prohibit people with criminal records or mental-health problems from purchasing or owning firearms, banning “bump stocks” that were used in last year’s Las Vegas mass shooting, universal background checks for firearm purchases, or improving the national criminal background check system.
“If (there) had been a public-health outbreak in other areas … if we had lowered the flags (to half-mast) a quarter of the time since I’d been governor because of a disease, we’d all be saying, `What can we be doing about this?’” Bullock said.
The governor said one-fourth of times he’s been asked to order flags flown at half-mast have been to memorialize and honor the victims of mass shootings.
“I’m just tired of lowering the flags for school mass-shootings,” Bullock said “And I’m tired of gun violence being part of our collective discussion for a week or two after another mass shooting, and then we move on. … Nothing has changed.”
As governor, Bullock has signed several bills that expanded gun rights in Montana, but he’s also vetoed a half-dozen, including measures that would liberalize laws on who can carry concealed weapons.