A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

20 February 2017

Gun nuttery is poisoning the legislature's ability to think clearly

There’s a shortage of time at the legislature. That’s partly a result of a constitutional constraint that should be loosened or repealed, and partly the result of Republican legislators who continue to have the brass to waste time on nutty gun bills that will die on Gov. Steve Bullock’s veto desk. Here are a few gun bills that are killing time and the power to think clearly:

Packin’ heat in the schoolhouse. At 1500 MST today, the Montana House of Representatives’ judiciary committee is scheduled to vote on HB-385, Rep. Seth Berglee’s (R-Joliet) dishonestly labeled “Montana School Safety Act” that would allow school employees with a concealed carry permit to pack handguns in Montana’s school. At present, only law enforcement officers can do that.

This bill is born of the delusion that if gunfire erupts in the cafeteria, Janitor George, an overweight slow mover with a hero complex who’s never fired a shot in anger, will throw aside his mop, draw his snub nosed .38 revolver, race from the other end of the school, burst into the cafeteria, and in less than a second, calmly ignore the confusion, identify the shooter and blast him to kingdom come.

That’s how all of us want to believe we would behave in that situation. But it’s fantasy. If a shooting does occur (statistically, school shootings are rare events), George might mistakenly shoot a teacher or student, and because he’s using a gun, be shot himself when the police arrive. That’s why school officials and law enforcement leaders want George to leave his piece at home and to hunker down and call 911 if he hears what he thinks is gunfire. The smart drill is duck and dial, not draw and discharge, and legislators were so advised:

…the bill had its first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee last week, and more than two dozen opponents testified against it.

The intent of the bill is to encourage school employees to “protect and defend” their students. But parents, teachers and others who actually spend their days in the schools are more concerned about the increased risks posed by Berglee’s bill. The potential for a tragic accident, should an employee fail even once to keep a firearm out of reach of a very young student, or a mentally unstable older student, is just too great a threat. It’s a far greater threat, statistically, than a random outside shooter.

Concealed carry in the legislature for legislators. Kalispell Republican Rep. Randy Brodehl, a former fire chief, is carrying HB-280, which passed the House 53–45 last week, with only one Democrat, Rep. Bradley Hamlett of Cascade, voting for it.

There’s no rational justification for legislators’ packin’ in the capitol, which is secured with guards. If legislators are worried about their safety, they should beef up the security squad. But although beefing up security’s the rational approach, it’s nowhere near as much fun as concealing a pistol and entertaining the fantasy that just like Janitor George, they’ll save the day when a screaming jihadi clad in ninja black, a checkered keffiyeh, and a dynamite festooned suicide vest, bursts into the capitol firing an AK-47 on full auto.

Besides that, having the special right to carry a concealed weapon where no other civilian can is an easy way for a legislator to make himself feel important, very, very, important.

Nullifying federal laws prohibiting firearms in the U.S. Post Office. House Bill 246, also sponsored by Brodehl, passed the legislature last week on a party line vote. Rep. Hamlett, who apparently didn’t understand the lesson on nullification when he studied the Civil War, voted Aye. The Missoulian’s editorial yesterday was unable to conceal its scorn:

…this legislation specifies that a “person may carry a lawfully possessed firearm on any portion of property open to the public and owned or leased by the United States postal service, including within postal service stores or mailrooms or on adjacent sidewalks, streets, and parking lots.” Of course, this directly contradicts federal laws, which is why the bill also helpfully states that such laws are “not effective in this state and may not be enforced.”

Legislators should know better. No state can simply declare a federal law or regulation “not effective.” This attempt to supersede United States law shows a stubborn refusal to deal in reality.

HB-246 now heads to a losing encounter with Gov. Bullock’s veto pen.

Bullock certain to veto HB-262. This, Mike Dennison reports, is the no permit needed to carry a concealed pistol bill that Bullock vetoed in 2013 and 2015:

At his weekly meeting with Capitol reporters, Bullock said Thursday he’ll “take a close look” at the bill before deciding, but that if it’s the same concealed-weapon bill he vetoed in 2013 and 2015, he’d have the same problems with it.

Harris’ HB262 is identical to the bills Bullock vetoed in the previous two sessions.

Each bill says anyone who can legally possess a handgun in Montana cannot be required to have a permit, to carry a concealed weapon.

Passing this bill the third time and expecting it won’t be vetoed again is a perfect example of the classic definition of insanity. Rep. Bill Harris (R-Winnett), in his fourth and last term in the House, is the legislator guilty of extending this crazy tradition.

Where gunpowder, grits, and sidearms may mix. If the eatery you’re at sells burgers as well as booze, Seth Berglee, fronting for Gary Marbut, wants you have the right to carry your concealed hand cannon, provided you have a valid permit for it, while you sip iced tea, gobble fries, and make chitchat with the kids and missus. He’s therefore introduced HB-494, “Providing that a Person with a Valid Permit to Carry a Concealed Weapon May Carry The Weapon into a Restaurant where Alcohol Is Not the Chief Item of Sale.”

That, says Marbut, Montana’s dean of gun nuts, would make for a better world:

It just makes no sense if you have a CWP and are having dinner with your family at Applebees and drinking iced tea that you cannot defend your family just because Applebees has a liquor license.

Defend your family from what? The pistol packin’ drunk at the next table who thinks you sneaked a lecherous look at his wife?

The bill was heard in the House’s judiciary’s committee this morning. A party line vote probably will send it to Bullock’s veto desk.