Rebuttal to Governor Bullock's Veto Message for HB 325

Governor Bullock's veto message for HB 325.

Governor Bullock's veto message for HB 325 is so laden with and influenced by distrust of and hate for Montana gun owners that comment is difficult. In addition to any actual public policy positions announced by the document, the word choices, (lack of) logic, and (lack of) truth work together to demonstrate this document to be a political rant with only distant connection to reality.

Here are the specifics:

1. In his second paragraph, Bullock says: "House Bill 325 would end local decision-making about whether felons and the mentally ill can carry weapons in public." First, local governments in Montana have had no real authority over this for decades because it is illegal under federal law for both of these classes of people to possess firearms. Withdrawing the pretense of local government control over this has no affect on the illegality of the practice under federal law.

Second, the assumption that a person intending violence would ignore various federal and state felony-level laws prohibiting that conduct but would be deterred by an obscure city ordinance making the conduct a misdemeanor is so strained as to call into question the mental health of the person making the assumption. This problem and flaw applies to much of Bullock's veto message.

Third, Bullock's use of "can carry" implies that local governments would be able to universally enforce such a gun control ordinance. That's just ludicrous. Is the city council going to instruct police to stop every person in a public place and interrogate them about their mental health and criminal history, and then search them for possible firearms? Obviously not, so this is really about permission, not practice. Therefore, the apolitical, grammatical way Bullock should have stated this is "may carry", not "can carry."

Fourth, the choice and use of the word "weapon", as if it were synonymous with "firearm", is deliberately and highly pejorative. The word "weapon" assumes an offensive purpose. A rock, a baseball bat, a fist, or a car can all be used as weapons. 99.9% of all firearms use is not weaponized. Bullock might as well have announced in writing, "I don't like firearms so I'm going to assume they're evil and I will make them sound as bad as I can."

2. Bullock says: "It would also end local decision-making about concealed weapons." First, Title 7 of the Montana Codes Annotated is all about limiting the power of local governments, and it is one of the longest, most complicated Titles in the M.C.A. Since local governments are created by state law, it is political appropriate that the powers of local government would also be limited by state law. Otherwise, local governments would be able to impose the death penalty for jaywalking or take peoples' property and give it to members of the city council. Therefore, it is totally consistent with our historic and current scheme of government for state law to constrain the powers and actions of local government. When local governments demonstrate abuse of the powers granted under state law, it is proper and typical that the Legislature would enact legislation to curb such abuse, as with HB 325 and Missoula (and some other cities).

Second and consistent with this, state law holds that all decision-making about which individual is granted a concealed weapon permit is left in the hands of the local, elected county sheriff. So, this statement by Bullock is factually incorrect.

Third, HB 325 would allow local governments to retain complete authority over "unpermitted concealed weapons." Because of that fact, this statement by Bullock is also factually incorrect.

3. Bullock says: "Both changes are dramatic departures from Montana history." Simply not true. Montana has limited the powers of local governments since Montana was a territory, including with the Territorial Constitution of 1884.

4. Bullock says: "Neither is good policy." Obviously Bullock's opinion. However, a conclusion based on false assumptions is illogical and unlikely to be correct.

5. In his third paragraph, Bullock argues essentially that laws and political philosophy acceptable in California should be applied in Montana. This rationale may be good political fodder for someone wishing to run for national office, but it is far from mainstream in Montana.

6. In his fourth paragraph, Bullock misdirects the meaning of the Montana Constitution. Yes, Article II, Section 12 does provide an archaic (1884) exclusion of carrying concealed weapons from the Right to Keep or Bear Arms, but it confers no authority whatsoever upon local governments. Consistent with the Montana Constitution, regulation of concealed firearms has always been at the discretion of state law from the Legislature. So, Bullock is wrong again in this paragraph, although he makes a clever, lawyer's attempt to misdirect the discussion.

7. In the fifth paragraph, Bullock asserts a conclusion based on the misdirection of the fourth paragraph, an incorrect claim that the Montana Constitution somehow confers authority over concealed weapons to local governments.

Bullock also claims, "Bizarrely, the bill even bars local governments from regulations that would facilitate existing prohibitions on gun ownership by convicted felons and the mentally ill." See the second and third comment under item 1. above. One may presume that what the grammatically-challenged Bullock meant was not "ownership" but "possession." Again, possession of firearms by felons and those adjudicated mentally incompetent is a felony under federal law. And again, it may be indicative of need for mental health assistance for anyone to make the assumption that a person not deterred by federal law with felony-level consequences would be deterred by an obscure city ordinance making the same conduct a local misdemeanor.

8. In his sixth paragraph, Bullock actually makes an argument FOR HB 325. Basically, Bullock admits that local governments have been abusing the powers allowed them under the Montana Constitution and state law since 1885. Because of that, it's high time the Legislature stepped in and restricted that admitted local government abuse.

9. In the last, seventh paragraph, Bullock crosses clearly over the double yellow and into oncoming traffic with a counter-factual, political rant. Wanting to ramp up the emotional octane of his veto, Bullock says, "House Bill 325 does something else, eliminating local control over whether the mentally ill may bring guns into schools ..." In this, Bullock (allegedly a law school graduate) ignores the existence of federal law and ignores the existence of an unaffected Montana law specifically prohibiting firearms in schools without school board permission (45-8-361, M.C.A.). This statement is pure political theater.

Bullock also says, "These are decisions that Montanans have long entrusted to their local governments." The very point of HB 325 is that local governments have violated any historic trust by enacting ordinances that abuse and violate current law and limited powers allowed to local governments. Because of that, a clear majority of the Legislature, the peoples' representatives, deemed it necessary to rein in abusive local governments with HB 325.

Conclusion. Of course, the ugly truth is that Bullock and those who agree with him have no hope or intention that local gun control ordinances will actually deter serious criminals. Their target for such restrictions is Average Joe, who never misuses his firearms but who is always the first to be blamed by the anti-gun crowd when some criminal commits mayhem with a firearm (they're ever so silent about non-firearm mayhem). Bullock and his sycophants would be most pleased if all firearms in private possession could be made to disappear, making all people totally dependrnt on police and other government agents for their safety and security. Short of that impossible disappearing act, Bullock would be pleased for all local governments to gradually restrict common citizens' use and possession of firearms, meanwhile bragging benevolence and safety for the restrictions. Let's be honest and name Bullock's favor for patchwork local gun control as creeping tyranny, an incremental effort to reduce us all gradually to powerless servants of government. That is what's between the lines of Bullock's veto message for HB 325.

Because HB 325 and HB 357 are identical, it is anticipated that the disingenuous claims made by Governor Bullock in his veto message for HB 325 will be recycled and used in attempt to defeat HB 357 when it appears on the ballot in November of 2020.

[UPDATE: HB 357 will be LR 130 on the November General Election ballots.]
Gary Marbut, President
Montana Shooting Sports Association
Author, Gun Laws of Montana