The Republican candidate for governor stood in faded blue jeans and worn brown leather boots as he fired dozens of rounds out a 12 gauge shotgun in Helena Tuesday morning. Greg Gianforte called the press conference at the Helena Trap Club to tout his support of gun rights and Montana values, and to announce endorsements from pro-gun groups.
"This is an extremely important race for gun owners in Montana I have the endorsement of the NRA, Gun Owners of America, and Montana Shooting Sports Association. I’ve been a life member of the NRA and unfortunately my opponent has vetoed six gun rights bills in the last two sessions. He is no friend of gun owners."
Of those six bills that Bullock vetoed, all were Republican-sponsored. Three tried to loosen concealed weapon permit regulations. Two tried to ban the enforcement of any new federal gun laws, and one said that "gun free zones are dangerous to the health and security of citizens." That bill would have allowed guns to be carried on the campuses of the Montana University System.
Gianforte says he would have signed the bill that would allow anyone eligible to own a handgun to concealed carry.
"The reality is that when you create gun free zones you create victim zones and the Second Amendment is there for personal protection. And if people don’t believe in the Second Amendment, they should vote for my opponent. I will defend the Second Amendment."
On incumbent Steve Bullock’s campaign web site, it says Bullock is "a staunch supporter of our Second Amendment rights and fights for the right of all law-abiding citizens to own and responsibly use guns."
I asked Gianforte what kind of gun he was using while other shooters continued firing at clays.
"It’s a Marcus Daly, over under. This is my general all-around pheasant, duck gun," Gianforte said.
Marcus Daly was one of Montana’s 19th century copper kings.
Gianforte may have made a slip of the tongue; Charles Daly is the name of a model of shotgun.
Corin Cates-Carney: How long have you had this one?
Greg Gianforte: Oh, 10 or 12 years. A lot of people shoot the semi-autos, but I kind of like this. It’s not a fancy gun. But, practical.
Gianforte says along with a constitutional right to own guns, hunting is important to what it means to be a Montanan.
Gianforte says those same Montana values also a play a role in trapping and snaring. Last week he expressed strong opposition to an initiative on this year’s Montana ballot that would generally prohibit trapping on public lands.
"I’ve been trapping for over 20 years. My daughter and I used to run a line along the East Gallatin. We would trap beaver and mink, and it's part of our heritage."
The ballot initiative to block most trapping and snaring will not affect trapping on private property.
Gianforte says the proposal to outlaw public land trapping is the beginning of an attempt to take away Montanan’s hunting rights.
"And I think we have to be very careful about initiatives like this and where they lead to. I think many hunters stand with the trappers on this, ‘cause they see it as an attempt to take away not only our trapping rights, but also our hunting rights. I think we have to call it what it is. It’s an attempt by environmental extremists to turn the state into a park that we just take pictures of."
Gianforte joins the Montana Trappers Association, along with other hunting groups, in opposition to the ballot initiative.
According to Ballotpedia, the issue group Montanans for Trap Free Public Lands has raised over $100,000 this election cycle in support of the proposal.
Ballot committees fighting the trapping ban have raised about $86,000.