HELENA – Very little separates Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Republican challenger Roy Brown when it comes to gun rights.
Schweitzer, in a recent survey, said he will continue to keep a rifle on display in his office — despite a city ordinance that bans guns in the state Capitol.
While the Helena city attorney says the governor is in a gray area, Brown thinks Schweitzer is breaking the law. Brown says he doesn’t like that idea and would change state law so that anyone could bring guns into public buildings. Unlike Schweitzer, Brown also wants guns to be allowed on college campuses.
The differences appear on a questionnaire the two filled out for the Montana Shooting Sports Association.
The organization said the survey was aimed at helping it choose which candidate to endorse; however, the group picked Brown before it even received the governor’s response.
Still, the answers shed light on at least one gun issue the candidates disagree on — whether guns should be allowed in public buildings.
Schweitzer says he doesn’t want to change the state law that allows cities to ban guns in public buildings, even though he keeps a gun in his office. He pointed to cases in other states where “deranged” guys with guns have gotten in.
“Most states have metal detectors. We don’t,” Schweitzer said.
Schweitzer suggested the rifle on his wall might be used for personal protection, although he said it’s not loaded and is disabled with a gun lock.
Helena City Attorney David Nielsen said it’s not clear whether Schweitzer is skirting the law, since the gun is on the wall as a display. But he says the police would probably frown on the notion of the governor carrying the gun through the building, even on the way to the office.
“I don’t know that we are going to bust into the governor’s office and seize the rifle,” Nielsen said. “I guess if we saw him packing it in, we would say, ‘You really can’t have that in the hallway. Get your dog on a leash, and take care of that gun.'”
Brown, a state senator from Billings, was critical of Schweitzer’s stance on the issue.
“There is a law that says you aren’t supposed to have one in there,” Brown said. “I would follow the law and try to get it changed.”
However, Brown said he doesn’t think any security guards or law enforcement officers in the Capitol should enforce the gun ban on the governor.
Brown said a ban on guns in public buildings won’t stop a “crazy person” intent on hurting people. It only keeps guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens and makes them “senseless victims,” he said.
“It’s just preposterous to think that crazy people that are going to break the law are going to pay attention to a law that says you are not supposed to have a gun in there,” Brown said.
Brown said the same logic applies to his desire to let people bring guns onto college campuses.
He said one gun owner could have put an end to the Virginia Tech massacre.
Schweitzer said he wouldn’t sue the Board of Regents to force colleges to allow guns on campuses, issue an executive order along the same lines, or otherwise force the agency to do so.
The current gun bans are OK with Schweitzer, even though he says he recalls possessing firearms when he was in college.
“I think the status quo is fine in that regard,” he said. “You know, we have gun-free zones in our schools, and that seems to be working across Montana.”
Schweitzer wasn’t worried about losing the MSSA endorsement to Brown, dismissing the group as a “Republican front group.” He noted that the group endorsed Brown even before it received Schweitzer’s questionnaire.
Schweitzer says the endorsement he received from the National Rifle association earlier this year is more meaningful.
The president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, Gary Marbut, said he likes Schweitzer’s populist personality and the fact he has not been in government his whole life. But Brown got the endorsement in part because he had a long voting record as a state lawmaker.
He said his group endorses purely on gun issues, but he acknowledged more Republicans get the nod.
And the gun in the governor’s office? The MSSA leader doesn’t like it.
“I think that if he wants to have a gun in the governor’s office, he needs to join with us and change that law,” Marbut said. “Let’s get the law fixed, because it’s a stupid law.”
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