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Montana Officials, Candidates React To Florida Shooting

Gov. Steve Bullock.
Corin Cates-Carney
Montana Democratic House candidates talk guns during a candidate forum, Feb. 8, 2018.

In the wake of the Florida school shooting, we’re taking a look at reactions and statements on guns from Montana's politicians and candidates for elected office.

[This story was updated at 8:30 am Fri, Feb. 16 to clarify NRA spending in support of Congressman Greg Gianforte, that clarification is noted below].

Montana Governor Steve Bullock has ordered flags be flown at half-staff today though sunset February 19 out of respect for the victims and their families of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Bullock, a Democrat, tweeted,  "Thoughts and prayers aren’t solutions. We must reflect on both our mental healthcare system and gun safety laws and start the conversation about how we find solutions that save lives."

Last November, Bullock signed off on budget cuts to state mental health programs.

Bullock’s nephew was the unintended target of a fatal school shooting in Butte in 1994.

Responding to Wednesday’s school shooting in Florida, Democratic Senator Jon Tester tweeted that his, "heart goes out to everyone affected by the shooting and that schools and communities must be safe places free from senseless violence."

In an emailed statement, Tester said: "We have a mental health crisis in this country and Congress must take action to get folks the help they need so we can better prevent these mass shootings from happening."

Tester, who’s running for a third Senate term this year, received an A- grade from the National Rifle Association on his gun rights voting record in 2012. His office says he supports legislation that expands background checks on firearms purchases and favors banning bump stocks. Tester recently introduced a bill to help fund medical professionals in rural communities.

Of the four Republican candidates that have filed to run against Tester, so far only Matthew Rosendale, currently Montana’s state auditor, has commented on the Florida shooting, tweeting: "Sending prayers for the victims and family members affected by the horrible violence in Florida this afternoon."

Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Matthew Rosendale.
Credit Montana Legislature
Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance Matthew Rosendale.

Rosendale lists honoring the Second Amendment as one of his main issues, saying he’ll protect the right to own firearms and fight federal legislation that infringes on it.

Military veteran Troy Downing also lists the second amendment as a key campaign issue, adding the right to bear arms is under attack.

Judge Russ Fagg calls himself a pro-Second Amendment candidate.

The NRA endorsed Republican state Representative Al Olszewski for his 2016 run for the Montana Legislature. Gun rights are not listed as an issue platform on his campaign website.

Montana’s Republican Senator Steve Daines wrote in an emailed statement that he’s heartbroken children have been exposed to such tragedy, but that an individual intent on harming others will do so regardless of whatever laws are in place. Daines wrote: "I cannot support controversial firearm restriction proposals that would undermine our Second Amendment rights and that many experts believe would be ineffective in preventing violent crimes."

The NRA endorsed Daines in 2014 and donated $7,700 to his Congressional campaign.

In response to MTPR’s request for a statement, Congressman Gianforte called the shooting a, "senseless tragedy," and said he's praying for the victims, their families and the Parkland community.

Governor-elect Greg Gianforte
U.S. House of Representatives
U.S. Representative Greg Gianforte.

"More details will emerge as to how and why this killer struck. Regardless, officials at every level of government must work together to ensure troubled individuals can be addressed before their behavior can escalate into such a coarse, unthinkable tragedy," Gianforte said.

The National Rifle Association endorsed Gianforte in both his unsuccessful run for Governor in 2016, and his special election campaign in 2017. The Center for Responsive Politics says that the NRA has contributed more than $344,000 to Gianforte’s campaigns.

EDITOR'S NOTE: After being contacted by Congressman Gianforte's office, we are clarifying the statement above about NRA support for him. As the table in the link above shows, the NRA has not directly contributed to Mr. Gianforte's campaigns, but it has spent more than $344,000 in independent expenditures (and electioneering communications) supporting the candidate, and opposing candidates running agains Mr. Gianforte. We regret any misunderstandings our reporting may have caused.

As of five pm on Feb. 15, two of the five Democrats running to be their party’s nominee to challenge Gianforte issued statements in response to the shooting.

The five Democrats all went on the record on one specific question last week, at a candidate forum in Missoula. Asked in the context of gun violence against intimate partners and women, that question was: What is your position on expanding background checks to include not just sales at stores, but also at gun shows and over the internet?

Here’s what candidate John Heenan said last week.

John Heenan.
Credit Olga Kreimer
John Heenan.

"I’m against expanded background checks. I think there’s many gun laws on the books, and what we ought to do is fund the ones that we have."

But in a press release today, Heenan appeared to change position, saying, "While protecting the Second Amendment, we must implement common sense: Close the gun show loophole."

Kathleen Williams, the other candidate to put out a press release today in response to the Florida shooting, did not directly answer the gun show loophole question at the Missoula forum last week.

Responding to MTPR’s request for clarification, Williams Campaign Spokesman Andrew Markoff said, "She [Williams] wants to ensure that the existing background check system is strengthened, reinforced. There's a well known problem right now that the NICS system at the point of sale often fails to catch people who shouldn't have guns. So, the existing background check system fails, even when background checks are run."

Also as of 5 pm today, none of the three other Democrats who want to challenge Gianforte have issued press releases or statements on social media about the Florida shooting.

Here’s what they said last week at the Missoula candidate forum in response to the question, 'what is your position on expanded background checks?'

First, Jared Pettinato:

"I'm not for expanded background checks. I think we need to focus and spend our resources on implementing the laws we have; on keeping them out of the hands of criminals; on keeping them out of the hands of terrorists, and making sure that only law-abiding citizens have access to guns. And if we do that, we can decrease some of these horrible, horrible events."

Here’s Grant Kier on whether he favors expanding gun sale background checks:

"I lived in England, a country that didn’t allow guns, and I saw people killed with other tools. I don’t think expanded background checks are the key to dealing with the violence we have in our society. I think we need to enforce the laws we have on the books, and I think there are a lot of other things we need to do to support people to lead healthier lives, to live happier lives, and to have access to mental health care and other things that will help them deal with the issues that they’re facing."

Lynda Moss.
Credit Olga Kreimer
Lynda Moss.

Here’s how Lynda Moss responded to the question of whether she supports expanded gun sale background checks.

"I believe that it's the duty of anyone that owns guns to have a gun safe in their home. We have a large percentage of teenage suicides that are caused by access to firearms. I believe it's important as a state and as a country to really address that issue and talk about gun safety that makes sense and that can protect women and children, vulnerable populations, urban populations from violence caused by firearms."

You can hear the complete six minutes of audio of all five Democratic candidates talking about guns at last week’s Missoula forum above.

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