HELENA — U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said last week that gun-owner rights in America are stronger than when President Barack Obama took office in 2009 — a statement that the campaign of his GOP challenger, U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, is disputing.

“Jon Tester is either out of touch or uninformed on gun rights,” said Rehberg’s campaign manager, Erik Iverson. “Either way, that’s bad news for folks in Montana who care about our Second Amendment rights.”

Rehberg is running against Tester in the 2012 election.

Iverson maintains that the Obama administration is hostile to gun-owner rights, saying the president has nominated two U.S. Supreme Court justices that Iverson calls “anti-gun” — Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan — and that Tester voted to confirm both of them.

Iverson also pointed to the Obama administration’s recent rule aimed at preventing semi-automatic weapons from getting into the hands of Mexican drug dealers. The rule, which has been widely criticized by gun groups and challenged in court by firearms dealers, requires those dealers in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas to report multiple sales of certain semi-automatic rifles.

Tester is the lead sponsor of legislation to undo the rule, which was enacted in July by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Tester, D-Mont., in an interview last Friday with KGVO-TV in Missoula, made this statement in response to a question criticizing him for supporting “anti-gun” judges for the Supreme Court: “I think it’s important to note that our gun rights are stronger now than when they were when Obama got into office.”

Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy on Thursday said the senator stands by his statement, and that he wasn’t defending the president’s record on gun rights, but merely noting that Congress and the courts have taken action the past three years to strengthen gun rights — and that he’s been fully active in and supportive of those actions.

“In just a few years, Jon has become a national leader for strengthening gun rights, working across party lines to protect the Second Amendment,” Murphy said. “Congressman Dennis Rehberg is trying to throw mud onto a clean record, but it won’t stick because Jon’s position is rock solid.”

Tester pointed out that it’s now legal to carry firearms in national parks and wildlife refuges, that Amtrak allows firearms to be carried in checked luggage, and that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010 overruled a Chicago gun ban, confirming that the Second Amendment applies to individuals’ rights to possess weapons. Tester led a congressional effort to file a “friend of the court” brief in the Chicago case, supporting overturning local restrictions on gun ownership.

“I will continue to fight for Second Amendment rights every step of the way, because I think it’s important, and we will continue to influence whoever we can influence to make sure that (the) Second Amendment is upheld,” he told KGVO. “Our right to keep and bear arms is very important to me.”

Iverson, however, noted that Sotomayor, nominated by Obama and supported by Tester for confirmation, was in the minority in the 5-4 Chicago decision.

“The most important protection for our Second Amendment rights is the U.S. Supreme Court. ... With one more (anti-gun justice), we would lose our Second Amendment rights,” he said.

When asked if a potential Supreme Court justice’s position on Second Amendment rights is the only issue that should determine his or her fitness to sit on the court, Iverson said the question is paramount for those who care about gun rights.

Iverson said Rehberg would not have voted to confirm Sotomayor, because, among other things, he didn’t think she is strong enough on gun-owner rights.

Tester told KGVO that he supported Sotomayor and Kagan because he thought they were “both good people and competent to serve on the court.”

“As far as the next appointee, we’ll just find out where they’re at on those issues when they come in,” he said.


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