On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Representative Matthew Monforton’s HB 598, the so-called Gun Owners Access to Justice Act, which under the guise of protecting gun rights from the imagined threats conjured up in Gary Marbut’s mind, would make it very difficult for the state to enforce any sensible gun restrictions while enriching lawyers who would bring frivolous suits against the state following its passage. The proposed law would be a nightmare for businesses, who rightly fear that its passage will make it impossible for them to prevent employees from bringing guns to work.
As such, Northwestern Energy’s chief lobbyist John Fitzpatrick spoke against the bill, along with other Montana business groups, who all fear the liability they would face if employees could bring guns into their workplace. In his testimony, Fitzpatrick argued that the bill represented “poor policy” and a “threat to private property rights,” before making clear that the bill used the Second Amendment to “overpower the rights of others.”
Other opponents included the Montana Chamber of Commerce, the Montana Petroleum Association, the Montana Bankers Association, Montana Credit Unions, MEA-MFT, Montana Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, the Montana League of Cities and Towns, who variously worried about the confusing nature of the bill, its potential for concealed carry of weapons into banks, criminals suing for restrictions of their rights to use guns, and even the threat it poses to restrictions on guns in our schools.
In short, this bill is a poorly-worded concept that’s even more poorly-reasoned, and those who opposed it were hardly opponents of gun ownership, but conservative and liberal groups concerned about a law that could invalidate sensible ordinances and laws all over the state and its communities.
In contrast, only four people, including Representative Monforton and Gary Marbut spoke in favor of the bill. (Strange that an organization that purports to represent so many people has such trouble bringing people to testify, but I digress.)
And then the Montana Shooting Sports Association lost its ever-loving mind, attacking the First Amendment rights of opponents and moving perilously close to libel in attacks against lobbyist John Fitzpatrick and his son, Representative Steve Fitzpatrick.
Elisa Delaurenti, who works as the “legislative coordinator” for the Montana Shooting Sports Association, took to Facebook to post a series of inflammatory and irrational remarks following the testimony. Given the absolutist position taken by the MSSA about the Second Amendment, it’s especially ironic to see that Delaurenti calls into question the First Amendment rights possessed by Mr. Fitzpatrick, but that’s not the worst of what she did. Over a series of posts and comments, she moved from questioning whether or not Northwestern Energy has given kickbacks to Representative Steve Fitzpatrick, to making accusations of “felony crime,” “the putrid stench of criminal activity, “and having “heard” that Representative Fitzpatrick received kickbacks from Northwestern Energy for another vote.
Finally, she moved to a double accusation: that Northwestern was breaking the law to testify against the bill and arguing that Representative Fitzpatrick was receiving a “fat bank account” for voting against the position taken by the MSSA.
That’s a remarkable series of claims, some of which I imagine are actionable under MCA 27.1.802.
At some point in the process, the MSSA released a letter, falsely claiming that 90% of Northwestern Energy customers are gun owners (the real figure is probably closer to 60%), suggesting that Northwestern Energy was financially linked to former New York mayor and gun control advocate Michael Bloomberg, and calling on members to harass Northwestern Energy for having the temerity to advocate for sensible gun policy.
Eventually, harassed by enough poorly-written rants on their Facebook page, Northwestern responded, noting that “Michael Bloomberg does not have financial interest in the company. We do, however, subscribe to a couple of Bloomberg News products.” Northwestern also refuted other misstatements that came from the Montana Shooting Sports Association.
The MSSA Association does not represent the views of the vast majority of Montana gun owners, who don’t want to worry about their co-workers being armed, their school children facing armed classmates, and their bars and banks turning into shooting ranges. Each session, they bring a self-inflated sense of importance and purpose to the Legislature, most of which can be ignored with the sure knowledge that the governor will veto their proposals, but this “citizen” group, complete with a lobbyist who doesn’t register as such and a legislative coordinator would do well remember there are other laws in Montana than those related to guns.