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Montana's delegation split on background checks, red flag laws after 2 more mass shootings

Montana's delegation split on background checks, red flag laws after 2 more mass shootings


After a weekend that saw at least 31 people die in two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, President Donald Trump stopped short of demanding new gun control legislation but offered some proposals that have become a common refrain following firearms-related tragedies.

Montana's congressional delegation was split in their response to Trump's address Monday morning calling for red-flag legislation that would allow law enforcement to obtain court orders for people who pose significant harm to themselves or others to allow for the removal of their firearms or stop them from purchasing guns.

Trump also on Twitter mentioned stronger background checks, possibly tied to immigration legislation, though he did not repeat that call in his remarks Monday morning.

The shooter in El Paso, who killed 22 people shopping at a Walmart, had posted a racist manifesto against Hispanic people before his attack. The shooting in Dayton, Ohio, had not yet been tied to any motive as of Monday evening.

Montana's delegation uniformly echoed Trump in condemning "racism, bigotry and white supremacy." Trump did not acknowledge any role his own rhetoric may have played in the violence, though several Democrats running for president linked Trump's words and actions to the Texas shooting.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat in the crowded field seeking the party's nomination for president, didn't go as far as some other candidates Monday but still was critical of Trump.

"He's used behavior to divide us. He's certainly empowered white nationalists. Let's not put the blame on anyone, but let's recognize that tragedy like this and the loss of life is about more than finger pointing, it's about finding solutions," Bullock said.

After Trump spoke Monday, Montana's lone Democrat in D.C., U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, said he supports reforms like red flag laws and addressing loopholes in background checks.

“I am devastated for these families. Shootings like these are becoming far too common and have no place in a civilized society," Tester said in a statement. 

Earlier this year, the newly Democratic-controlled House passed a universal background check bill that the Senate has not taken action on. Some Democrats, including Tester, support sending senators back from August recess to take up the legislation and debate gun control

"Sen. Mitch McConnell should call the Senate back to session to address bipartisan background check legislation that would help keep guns out of the hands of court-adjudicated mentally ill, criminals and terrorists,” Tester said. 

Tester wants a debate on the House bill and supports a proposal from Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, of Pennsylvania, that would add background checks for firearms sold at gun shows and online. 

In February, Montana U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, voted against the House bill on background checks that's now sitting in the Senate awaiting action. The bill passed the House 240-190, with eight Republicans joining all but three Democrats in the House to vote for it.

In a statement at the time, Gianforte said "nothing in the bill would have prevented recent tragedies of mass violence.”

Gianforte said the legislation wouldn't keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. He also tried to get an amendment to let farmers and ranchers transfer firearms to employees or neighbors if the gun was used for things like pest and predator control, hunting, target practice or firearms safety.

On Monday, Gianforte said the way he thinks gun violence can be addressed is through laws already in place.

“Susan and I pray for the victims, their loved ones, and the communities of El Paso and Dayton." Gianforte said. " ... I condemn racism and white supremacy, which have no place in our country. We must enforce existing laws, and I'll continue standing up for law-abiding Montanans and their Second Amendment rights.”

Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, does not support either red flag laws or increased background checks. 

"Cindy and I are devastated by the horrible acts of violence over the weekend. I condemn white supremacy and bigotry, and they have no place in our country," Daines said in a statement Monday. " ... These horrible tragedies should not be politicized to advance a political agenda. Knee-jerk reactions and more gun laws are not the solution. I stand strongly in protecting and defending the Second Amendment and Montanans’ constitutional right to bear arms."

Daines echoed Trump in focusing on mental illness after the mass shootings.

"As a nation, we must come together, Republicans and Democrats, and get to the root of what caused these two very sick men to commit these evil acts. We must continue to work together with our communities, families, young folks to identify early signs that could lead to more tragedy," Daines said.

Daines said communities should have resources to identify early warning signs someone may commit acts of mass violence. He supported and co-sponsored the Stop School Violence Act, a bill that had bipartisan support and was signed into law in 2018. It put money toward creating a reporting system for threats of school violence, among other things.

Helena Independent Record reporter Tom Kuglin contributed to this story.


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