HELENA – Democratic U.S. Senate hopeful Amanda Curtis appeared and spoke last year at a rally for expanded background checks for firearm purchasers, but said this week her position on the issue won’t hurt her with Montana voters.
“I haven’t said anything that average Montanans wouldn’t agree with,” she told the Gazette State Bureau on Monday. “I have simply stated that guns shouldn’t be in the hands of the mentally ill and criminals. That’s not too much to ask for, and that’s not a radical position.”
Curtis, a state representative and high school math teacher from Butte, is one of at least three people expected to compete Saturday to become the Democratic U.S. Senate candidate replacing Sen. John Walsh.
State Democratic Party Central Committee delegates will vote Saturday to name Walsh’s replacement on the Nov. 4 ballot, to go up against Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Daines and Libertarian Roger Roots.
Daines has said he opposes any expansion of background checks for firearms purchasers.
Curtis surfaced as a candidate last week, after Walsh withdrew from the race, and already has the backing of the state’s largest labor union, MEA-MFT.
Curtis spoke last summer at a rally in front of the state Capitol, sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group supporting expanded background checks for firearms purchases.
She said Monday she supports using background checks to prevent criminals and the mentally ill from purchasing firearms, including for sales at gun shows.
Anyone buying a firearm at a retail store must undergo a federal background check. Federal law prohibits people with certain criminal and mental health records from buying firearms.
However, Montana law forbids the state from providing mental-health information to federal databases used in firearm purchase background checks.
Gun show sales also are not subject to federal background-check laws — although gun show vendors can use the federal background check system on sales if they so choose, state Justice Department officials said.
Two other candidates vying for the Senate nomination — Wilsall rancher Dirk Adams and state Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Billings — have different positions on firearm background checks.
Adams said he is opposed to any additional background checks beyond what’s already in law.
“When I talk to knowledgeable folks on this issue, they tell me that the government has not upheld its responsibilities on even the current background checks, in terms of actually building a database of those they know cannot have guns,” he said.
Wanzenried said he supports keeping firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals, but that he’d have to be convinced that any specific proposal would achieve those results.
He also said his voting record in the Legislature has been one of neither restricting nor expanding gun owner rights.
Curtis said she’s a strong supporter of the Second Amendment of the Constitution and that she and her husband own firearms.
At last year’s rally in Helena, Curtis said that her 16-year-old brother shot and killed himself while playing Russian roulette in Billings in 1997. She also mentioned the 1994 shooting of a 10-year-old boy on a school playground in Butte.