The Lewis and Clark Conservative Tea Party event brought about a couple of dozen supporters to the steps of the Capitol on Friday to keep attention on the right to bear arms, but by all appearances there were more people were carrying cameras than guns, which participants were encouraged to bring.
“People can disagree with the right to bear arms,” said Lewis and Clark’s Conservative Tea Party Executive Director Tim Ravndal. “That’s the great thing about America. We have the rights to keep and bear arms and are exercising that right.”
The event was held on a Friday so legislators would have a chance to speak. The state Legislature is considering multiple gun-rights bills, including one to allow guns into prohibited places such as bars and government buildings and another to allow concealed carry in cities without a permit.
“It’s not for hunting squirrels – it’s for protecting our rights,” said Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell.
Rep. Alan Hale of Basin said the tea party has been like his family.
“I would like to see this crowd a whole lot larger,” said Hale, who added that tea party members are working people. “I hope I can continue to do the right things and vote the way I should.”
Ravndal, who was ousted as leader of the Big Sky Tea Party for questionable comments regarding homosexuals, formed his own group, which organized Friday’s gun rally. He told those who gathered at the Capitol he was honoring “those in here doing the right job.”
Another purpose of the rally is to promote legislation that calls for the nullification of federal laws, he said.
Trey Cathey traveled from the Billings area to attend the rally. He proudly displayed his semi-automatic rifle, the same one he brought to a similar event at the Capitol last year. That rally was on a Saturday in March and about 200 people attended.
“It’s hard to protect if you don’t have your Second Amendment rights,” said Cathey, who added that he was happy with the turnout and especially pleased with the number of legislators who spoke.
Organizers received permission for participants to carry unloaded, secured weapons to the Capitol grounds, where firearms are usually prohibited.
“I call it our Power Point presentation,” Ravndal said. “It does speak volumes when people are carrying guns.”
The Montana Human Rights Network had asked that the permission be revoked because guns in public areas bring a threat of violence and there is no mechanism in place to ensure the weapons were actually unloaded.
Travis McAdam, executive director of the Human Rights Network, said he was pleased the rally was sparsely attended and hopes the turnout was commentary that people are not supporting the tea party.
With the urging of the Human Rights Network, more than 100 people e-mailed the Department of Administration asking that guns not be allowed at the rally.
“The department definitely heard our message,” McAdam said.
The rally went on with guns and without incident.
Ravndal said the rally was directed at the Legislature and he felt his messages were sent loud and clear.
“I think we did exactly as anticipated,” he said after the rally concluded.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Reporter Angela Brandt: 447-4078 or firstname.lastname@example.org