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2024 Montana Primary elections
Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Daines, Gun Control Advocates Spar In Missoula

Montana’s Republican U.S. senator maintained his opposition to gun control legislation during his appearance Monday at a Missoula luncheon.

Some in the audience vehemently disagreed with his position.

Sen. Steve Daines started by outlining his accomplishments and agenda for the almost 200 people who attended Monday’s City Club of Missoula forum at the Doubletree Hotel, he then took questions for about 30 minutes.

One about gun control sparked the afternoon’s liveliest discussion. Alison Cobb asked Daines to convince her that he’s serious about reducing American gun violence. Daines, who’s up for re-election in 2020, responded that more gun control won’t necessarily prevent future mass shootings.

"Here’s my concern," Daines said, "is that members of Congress will want to message out to their respective constituents that we’re doing something, that indeed won’t do anything to actually make our communities safer, or our schools safer."

Daines says he currently will not support either expanded background checks or so-called "Red Flag" legislation that President Trump has been talking about. That would enable a state court to temporarily remove firearms from someone believed to present a danger to themselves or others.

He drew a distinction between last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida and a threat made against a Montana school.

"I’ve met with some of the students there from Parkland, Florida," Daines said. "They all knew who it was when he started shooting. We had several opportunities to stop that guy. It didn’t happen. Contrast that to Ravalli County, Montana. There was a young man who posted a threat on social media. The students and the teachers and the administration, to their credit, engaged with Ravalli County Sheriff Steve Holton; and guess what they did? They went down to Darby and arrested him."

Audience members responded by shouting, "What’s the fix? How do we fix it?” and, "our children are dying."

Daines suggested federal funds could be used to "harden" schools to prevent shooters from gaining access to them. That drew a few loud “no’s" from the audience. One woman jeered him as a "pawn of the NRA."

Daines pressed ahead, calling for deeper examinations of why some young men choose to go on shooting sprees.

His response did not satisfy Alison Cobb who asked Daines the initial question about his stance on gun violence.

"The U.S. has more mass shootings than any other country in the world, Cobb said. "Every other country has the internet, it has mental illness, it has video games. Every other country has social media and schools that people can go into. So what is it that’s different about the United States that makes us vulnerable to mass shootings? It’s our access to guns."

Longtime Missoulian Jerry Ballas says he’s grateful Daines refuses to bow to calls for gun control.

"One side will never be satisfied until they say they gonna start taking your guns," Ballas said. "And I don't think that that's gonna happen, it violates the constitution. So, I think the senator is trying to let people know that if you pass legislation you really have to have something that is gonna work, and not just be something that you want to hear. And it’s a really hard problem to solve."

Daines also said he supports full funding funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund at $900 million. In May Daines sent a letter to leaders of the Senate appropriations committee he serves on urging allocation of at least $600 million.

That’s not enough for the 25 or so people who demonstrated outside Daines’ appearance in Missoula Monday. Among them was Aaron Murphy, executive director of Montana Conservation Voters.

Demonstrators outside the Missoula hotel where Senator Daines Spoke Monday
Credit Eric Whitney
Demonstrators outside the Missoula hotel where Sen. Steve Daines spoke, August 12, 2019.

"In May, after he said he supports full funding of $900 million, Senator Daines asked the Appropriations Committee to kick-in only $600 million. And so we’re here to say two-thirds is not enough," Murphy said.

Murphy said Daines is in a great position to make full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund happen this year.

"One, he’s in the party that controls the Senate’s agenda, he could call up [Senate majority leader] Senator McConnell and say, 'look, get this done for me,'" Murphy said. "And two, he’s an appropriator, so he serves on the committee, and we would have the same message for anybody who is in control of the Senate."

As he was leaving the hotel, Sen. Daines chose not to engage with the demonstrators who waved their signs at the vehicle he was riding in.

Edward O’Brien first landed at Montana Public Radio three decades ago as a news intern while attending the UM School of Journalism. He covers a wide range of stories from around the state.  
(406) 243-4065
Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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