Montana Politics

It’s Time to Do Something About Gun Violence in Montana and Hold Advocates Responsible

It’s almost never a positive to be listed with Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and South Carolina, but that’s precisely where Montana finds itself on a list of the states with the most gun violence. Despite a relatively low rate of crime in Montana, the state clocks in at #5 in gun deaths, according to a Centers for Disease Control study reported by USA Today.

According to the study, Montana had 16.8 firearm deaths per 100,000 residents, despite being ranked 39th in the nation in violent crime. At least part of the reason why Montana ranks so high is the lack of reasonable restrictions on gun ownership and use, brought to us by reactionary organizations like the Montana Shooting Sports Association and the NRA.

Let’s look at a practical change we could make to ensure fewer gun deaths: fixing the gaps in background checks. A recent piece by Representative Ellie Boldman Hill notes that Montana isn’t sending in records of those with serious mental illnesses to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System:

Our state already sends in records for felons and spousal abusers, but we don’t send in our prohibiting mental health records. In fact, alarmingly, our state has submitted a total of 3 records to NICS since its inception. That means we’re allowing an untold number of dangerous people slip through the crack—even though they’re not legally allowed to possess guns in the first place.

When Representative Hill initially offered her opinion in the Missoulian, she was met with this response from Montana’s leading gun nut, the MSSA’s one-man show, Gary Marbut, in which he asserted that “all people with mental health issues are prone to violence is a badly prejudiced and factually incorrect way to view these people, similar to attributing violent tendencies to people only because of skin color. Mental health professionals themselves say that their art is not sufficiently matured to allow prediction of violence by individuals.”

While I’m in no position to question the mental health professionals consulted by Gary Marbut, the American Psychological Assocation argues that background checks for those with serious mental illnesses who pose a threat to themselves or others work:

The use of a gun greatly increases the odds that violence will lead to a fatality: This problem calls for urgent action. Firearm prohibitions for high-risk groups — domestic violence offenders, persons convicted of violent misdemeanor crimes, and individuals with mental illness who have been adjudicated as being a threat to themselves or to others — have been shown to reduce violence. The licensing of handgun purchasers, background check requirements for all gun sales, and close oversight of retail gun sellers can reduce the diversion of guns to criminals.

Hill’s sensible call for regulation—and the tiresome, predictable response from Gary Marbut—illustrate just why Montana will continue to lead the nation in gun violence: as long as members of the Legislature can be cowed by the caterwauling of gun nuts, going so far as letting those nuts write, lobby for, and “explain” bills to the body, we’ll continue to see the tragedy of senseless deaths here in Montana.

I’ve written at length before about the gundamentalists who raise momey in the state by stoking fears of state control of firearms, who rail against every sensible check on gun use, and who call for guns in our schools, bars, and banks—gundamentalists who have hijacked the Second Amendment and turned it into an absolutist statement that ignores the dangers of modern weapons and the threat those weapons pose, especially to young people.

While Marbut and his band of legislators are calling for more guns in more hands while working to underfund mental health services, demonizing law enforcement, and trying to turn our schools into shooting ranges, they bear some responsibility for the tragedies that follow.

Wailing about a tyrannical government and the loss of the right to bring any gun into any space for any reason may play well with the small percentage of Montanans who are gun absolutists, but it’s time for the rest of us to hold those absolutists responsible and give them their share of the blame for the violence they help encourage.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.


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  • Funny you don’t mention Montana’s suicide rate which was 22 per 100000
    and lead the nation. Focusing on the instrumentality of death rather
    than addressing the underlying causes is foolish at best at arresting
    the trend.

        • Nope.

          The NPRM announced today would modify the HIPAA Privacy Rule to permit certain HIPAA-covered entities to disclose to the NICS the identities of persons prohibited by federal law from possessing or receiving a firearm for reasons related to mental health.

          Seeking help for mental health problems or getting treatment does not make someone legally prohibited from having a firearm, and nothing in this proposed rule changes that. Furthermore, nothing in this proposed rule would require reporting on general mental health visits or other routine mental health care, or exempt providers solely performing these treatment services from existing privacy rules.

          The proposal would give states and certain covered entities added flexibility to ensure accurate but limited information is reported to the NICS, which would not include clinical, diagnostic, or other mental health information. Instead, certain covered entities would be permitted to disclose the minimum necessary identifying information about individuals who have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or otherwise have been determined by a lawful authority to be a danger to themselves or others or to lack the mental capacity to manage their own affairs. Importantly, the proposed permission focuses on those entities performing relevant commitments, adjudications, or data repository functions.

      • BTW, have looked at traffic deaths and how Montana rates? “The fatality rate per 100,000 people ranged from a low of 3.1 in the
        District of Columbia to a high of 22.6 in Montana. The death rates per
        100 million vehicle miles traveled ranged from 0.56 in the District of
        Columbia to 1.96 in Montana.”

        Why aren’t you pounding the pulpit over several restricting vehicle ownership and use over Montana’s ranking?

        • Perhaps because when legislators meet in Helena, there are no advocates proposing dramatically expanding irresponsible use of cars.

          Perhaps because equating a means of transportation with masculine gun fantasies is fatuous.

          And perhaps, because, when those same legislators propose idiotically making driving more dangerous because driving drunk is “a part of Montana life,” I was just as critical.

          • So, you are criticizing Bullock for his lack of leadership on auto deaths which exceed all deaths by firearm?

                • Comparing apples and oranges, Craig. I need a car to get to work. I don’t need a gun for, well, anything.

                • Pete, my point is that auto deaths are no less important that firearm deaths and possibly much easier to arrest. You seem to suggest that “work” trumps personal protection and life saving.

                  As to the need for a gun, I can only speak from my own experience. I have been shot at while on a sidewalk while my friend was seriously wounded. I was bathed in his blood as I applied pressure to his entry and exit wounds. That shooter was wrecked on LSD. His story made the Reader’s Digest. His name was Larry Harmon. I have been a victim of home invasion burglary twice. In all 3 instances I did not have a weapon available to even the odds. I wish I did. Never again will I allow myself to be without means to protect myself, family, friends, or other innocents. Never again. Nope, not ever. Why, you may ask? Law enforcement was slow to respond and did not follow up on the bastards that did the burglaries… and there was no way they could have prevented the shooting. Just can’t rely on others.

                • I’m truly sorry for you bad experiences, Craig. I’ve had a few, not as bad as yours, but I’m glad I wasn’t packing as it most likely would have made the situation worse. I’m in my early sixties and am pleased I’ve made it this far without feeling the need for a gun.

                • I can’t speak to your experiences, Craig, but the broad evidence simply does not support the claim that more guns will increase our safety. Just yesterday, from the Washington Post:


                  In 2012, there were 8,855 criminal gun homicides in the FBI’s homicide database, but only 258 gun killings by private citizens that were deemed justifiable, which the FBI defines as “the killing of a felon, during the commission of a felony, by a private citizen.”

                  That works out to one justifiable gun death for every 34 unjustifiable gun deaths.

                • Please point us to this wonderful story that made Reader’s Digest, personally I think you are full of $hit and just making things up b/c that is what you do.

                • Craig, you really are pathetic, no wonder everyone at Cowgirl beats you up so regularly.

                • I rarely comment there anymore and haven’t for some time. Not sure who you mean be “everyone” or “regularly.”

                  As to the incident, believe what you will. Ever since that day in 1971, I relive it almost daily.,3540569&hl=en Reader’s Digest explored the back story of Harmon’s LSD use and how he came to his twisted beliefs. MIT’s The Tech also carried another perspective.

                • Craig,

                  I’m old but now I get it. You have been there, when a gun would have prevented a terrible event!

                  I have not been there. Yet I do get some of your view,
                  from my recalling when a big knife did prevent violence.

                  And next time I read another real life story about guns preventing violence,

                  I will well consider if there are thirty more real life stories about guns promoting violence.

  • If you examine the most extreme cases of multiple gun deaths by individuals throughout the US over the past year or so, I think about 75% of them were committed due to mental health issues, more so than violation of existing gun laws.
    Unfortunately, due to privacy laws on the books, HIPPA being part of that, it is far easier for publicity seeking politicians to go after the law abiding gun owning public, than it is to address the real, and serious issues, of how to deal with individuals with KNOWN mental health issues, BEFORE they committ a crime. That is a BIG part of the problem. Many of these shooters wwere reported to have been known to be heading for trouble, but, other than being committed for 48, or 72 or even 24 hours of observation ( depending on state I think ) nothing meaningful can be done until AFTER they have committed the heinous act of violence. THere in lies the rub, how to deal with this issue, without violating one’s cival rights, right to privacy, but being able to actually do something BEFORE things go bad. Politicians know this, that is why they DO NOT even acknowledge the problem, because they also know it is a no win situation, of which there is very little to nothing they can do about it, if they address it, for many years. More than likelyu until after they leave office. I am a committed 2nd amendment advocate, who strongly feels our rights have been under attack for many years now. When children in school, from elementary, to middle school, are getting in trouble for just wearing a NRA shirt to school, something is terribly wrong. When I grew up, you could be PROUD to represent that organisation, as well it still should be. But, something has gone wrong with our political system, on many fronts, not just guns. But, that is another issue. What do people think about this, it is a easy way for politicians to NOT attack or face the real deal, but trying to add more gun laws and restrictions, in stead of facing the more serious issues.

    • I think when you mention that a person could once be proud of membership in the NRA, it’s worth noting how much the NRA has changed since the 1970s and 1980s.

      • *LIFETIME MEMBER – ENDOWMENT LEVEL* and proud of it.
        I still snicker at the idea of you, Pogie, giving out lectures on firearms, when you have never touched off a pistol. Do you give advice on marriage too?

        • As much as I enjoy this singular argument you have about guns, it’s sad that someone who has paid for the right to receive propaganda from the NRA doesn’t even have the cognition to make a real argument on the issue.

          Thanks, though, for making the point that there is no rationale defense for the gun laws or gun culture in this country.

          • The argument is pretty simple. Until there start being very stiff sentences for using a firearm in the commission of a crime, and/or possessing a firearm during the commission of a crime, at the federal level, nothing is going to change.

            More gun laws have proven NOT to work, just take a look at Chicago, where they have very tough gun laws, So far this month in Chicago here are the stats;

            Shot & Killed: 30
            Shot & Wounded: 147
            Total Shot: 177
            Total Homicides: 32
            That pretty much sums up the effectiveness of gun restrictions, doesn’t it ?

            • Did it ever occur to you that Chicago’s efforts to enact gun control are fatally undermined by the absurdly permissive regulations in the rest of the nation?

  • I understand that this discussion is on MONTANA’S gun/death/mental health issues, and I am not trying to hijack the discussion, but this is just part of the overall national issue. Being focused on in that one state. Errr…excuse my spelling. 🙂 Anyways, why would you EVEN bring up car deaths, no correlation at all…none…no matter how you want to dress it up. No offense meant , just, stop trying to be right, and address the real issues….if we all did that, things

    COULD be better. I think :-).

    • How odd! On topic of gun regulations in Montana, come Posts more about what could be National gun regulations!

      So, looking again at gun regs in Montana. How’s concealed carry working out, in different Counties? Any communities banning display or sale of assault rifles. Any County working on all sides of issues of guns and suicides. Any State worker trying to assemble meaningful data about gun use in Montana.
      (For every reported event where a gun prevented violence,
      how many events where a gun promoted violence? 20? 30?)

      Anybody from Montana stood up to, or in, Congress,
      and said violent use of guns is a valid concern of Public Health.
      ( ?guns involved in 4 out of 5 MT suicides.)

      Anybody speak up in Helena and say because Texas legalizes open carry and concealed carry in schools,
      IS or IS NOT appropriate for Montana?

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Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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