HELENA — Supporters of expanded background checks for gun buyers brought their multi-state tour to Montana on Tuesday to ask Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus to change his stance and help Congress reconsider the issue.
But the small rally at the Capitol didn’t seem to budge the state’s senior senator, who is retiring at the end of 2014. Baucus has said that his vote in opposition of the background checks was based on overwhelming opposition from Montanans.
A group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded and funded by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, organized the event as part of a tour through 25 states. Another rally is scheduled for Thursday in Missoula.
The organization has also aired television advertisements in Montana, a pro-gun state with a history of opposing new restrictions, and other states represented by U.S. senators who in April voted against a failed bill to expand background checks for gun buyers.
State Rep. Amanda Curtis of Butte told the crowd to stand up for “reasonable” gun control legislation. The Democrat — who is considering a run for the U.S. House — said she believes the state is largely supportive of the idea.
“I don’t think in any way it is an unreasonable or outrageous thing to ask,” Curtis said in an interview after the event.
Curtis said during the rally that when she was 17, her brother killed himself with a gun at a party playing Russian roulette. She argued more can be done to prevent gun deaths, and told a few dozen gathered at the rally to stand up to fictitious counter arguments.
“When someone says the government is going to come and take your guns, that is crazy. That is not going to happen,” Curtis said. “We wouldn’t ever let that happen.”
A retired California police officer who now lives in Montana said expanded background checks are needed to ensure there are no loopholes allowing guns to fall into the hands of violent offenders, the mentally ill or others who shouldn’t own them.
“It’s a moral issue, not a political issue,” said Scott Swanson.
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., voted in favor of the failed measure. Although it never reached the House, the state’s lone congressman, Republican Steve Daines, has said he opposes it.
Mayors Against Illegal Guns argued the issue could be brought back up in the Senate.
Baucus’ office, in a statement, pointed out the senator has supported other measures such as increased funding for mental health care and improved school safety. The senator is focused on other issues, like the farm bill, the statement said.
“At the same time, Max understands that what works in New York or California doesn’t necessarily work for Montana. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, Max voted to boost gun prosecution in inner cities and high-crime areas without adding burdens on law-abiding folks in Montana,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue. “The fact is we aren’t enforcing the laws already on the books — under the Obama Administration federal weapons prosecutions have fallen to the lowest levels in over a decade.”
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