When confronted about a record on the Second Amendment that does not align with the values of the Montana Republican Party, former state Senator and current US House candidate Ryan Zinke usually two strategies: he calls people who point out his record, including a 42% lifetime rating from the NRA1, liars and/or he refers to his leadership of the Montana Firearms Institute.
The former strategy has become too common to even disappoint and the latter sounds impressive, until one does just a moment of research and discovers that the Montana Firearms Institute (MFI) is as moribund as Elsie Arntzen’s run for the US House. Like so many things about Zinke, it’s a self-aggrandizing spectacle that was designed to draw attention to Senator Zinke and deflect attention away from his record.
So what was the Montana Firearms Institute?
Back in 2011, when Zinke and two friends started the Montana Firearms Institute, they talked some big plans. According to the Flathead Beacon, Zinke promised to create jobs, and advocate for legislative changes in Helena. MFI’s mission, according to its founders? To “advocate for Montana’s firearms and shooting sport industries, promote Montana’s friendly climate for firearms manufacturing and champion the Second Amendment.”
So how’s it coming along?
It doesn’t have a web site. it doesn’t have a Facebook page. It didn’t register to lobby the Montana Legislature in 2011 or 2013. It has no presence on social media or media of any kind, other than references to Ryan Zinke’s biography for over a year.
It’s also not very active. Guidestar is the web’s leading repository of financial information about non-profit organizations like the allegedly 501 c 3 MFI. A search of its site reveals no hits, no IRS reporting of income and expenditures, nor even the existence of the organization. By contrast, even an organization as small as the Stillwater Hunters Education Instructors Association, based in Reedpoint, is listed.
Essentially, the MFI hosted a couple of banquets and got some press for Ryan Zinke, as well as cover for his weak Second Amendment record among Montana conservatives.
And the MFI was certainly not in keeping with conservative principles on spending. When the organization was rolled out in 2011, its mission was to seek out public spending as NonProfit Quarterly reports:
While MFI’s mission might be associated with conservative politics, the effectiveness of its work is explicitly linked with public spending. For example, organizers discussed opportunities for small businesses to compete for lucrative government contracts if they were better organized and had an appropriately skilled workforce.
The Montana Firearms Institute also shares connections with Zinke’s other brain child, Special Operations for America. One of the co-founders of the MFI was none other than former Whitefish City Council member Chris Hyatt, who was the first official treasurer of Zinke’s Special Operations for America SuperPAC.
And guess who highlighted Zinke’s role as a founder of the Montana Firearms Institute today? You guessed it? Special Operations for America.
For all the MFI has done, Zinke and his utterly uncoordinated SuperPAC may as well start asserting that he was the founder of the Montana Flathead Lake Monster Institute. That would be just as a real and a bit more honest.