As a Montana legislator, I have seen how easily our attitude on gun control has been undermined by the National Rifle Association.
During my two terms in the Legislature, 23 gun bills were dutifully carried by NRA-endorsed legislators. I was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee where I heard testimony on laws that would allow silencers on rifles to protect the hearing of shooters, laws that would allow people to carry concealed firearms on college campuses, in government buildings and hospitals, laws that would exempt Montana from federal regulations on the manufacture of firearms and ammunition as a way to encourage economic development. In Judiciary Committee and in the Senate, I heard testimony about protecting our Second Amendment rights as justification for diminishing gun regulations.
Many legislators voted “yes” on these gun bills to make sure they would have a good record with the NRA. Get an “A” on their scorecard, be endorsed and best of all, receive campaign contributions for their next election. And if you weren’t endorsed, you could expect ugly, negative campaign literature sent to voters in your district. While just a few of those 23 gun bills eventually became law in Montana, the rhetoric became the brand, the brand became the public perception and the public perception became the polling data.
Most Montanans live in cities where we expect our schools, shopping malls, downtowns and neighborhoods to be safe -- expectations that are universal, expectations that are the core of our civic values. There are about 120,000 children under the age of 14 living in Montana and more than 60 million children of that age in communities across our nation. It is a number far greater than the NRA membership. Each of those children deserve a commitment to meaningful gun control in all states, including Montana.
My heart is deeply saddened by the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and I cannot imagine the grief for loved ones in Newtown, Conn. When a little boy can bravely say, “I know karate” in the face of danger, we should be ashamed of our lack of courage to change the culture of guns in our society.
This must never happen again, ever.
It is time for President Barack Obama and Montana elected officials to act. Now.