Can we protect the right to bear arms and address the public health crisis of gun violence? Governor and presidential candidate Steve Bullock has offered a vision for both in the past few days, offering hope that we can move past endless conversation about guns to real solutions.
In his remarks to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. today, Bullock offered a powerful call for reform:
I am a hunter and a gun owner. And let me say as a hunter, no real hunter needs a 30-round clip. No real hunter needs a weapon of war. No real hunter needs a bump-stock. And no real hunter wants a terrorist, or a domestic abuser, or a violent felon, or someone wrestling with mental illness or alienation to get his hands on a weapon, period. I’m calling on my fellow gun owners to take leadership in the fight against gun violence that’s tearing our country apart. I believe I can speak to folks who live in gun country. I know their hearts, and their hearts are not with the white supremacists.
And in an interview with RealClear Politics yesterday, he identified the policies he would pursue as President: universal background checks, red flag laws, and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines:
What would such steps look like in a Bullock presidency? Universal background checks, for starters, combined with an effort to make sure that federal and national databases have all the relevant information needed to run a thorough search. He also would support so-called red flag laws currently being discussed to keep guns away from the mentally ill or those convicted of domestic abuse.
High-capacity magazines would be outlawed. So would assault weapons, which he does not define but says they “are not used for self-defense,” arguing that the AR-15, the most popular rifle in America, “is not used for hunting.”
Support for these measures represents a significant shift in Bullock’s thinking. In 2016, he opposed universal background checks and was far from a leading voice for gun control. Bullock has cited the experience of lowering the state’s flags 13 times as governor and meeting with students from the March For Our Lives rally that took place after the Parkland shootings for the evolution in his thinking.
And Bullock is right. While Montana Republicans like Steve Daines and Greg Gianforte side with those who oppose mental health checks for weapon access and oppose background checks that can keep these weapons of war out of the hands of criminals, Bullock’s support for sensible gun policies that reflect the desires of most Montanans is an important step towards the Democratic Party offering a cohesive, responsible, and safe alternative to the Republican vision in which our safety would somehow be best protected in a Mad Max-style free for all every time we go on a Target run.
Cynics on the right have argued that Bullock has shifted his position to appeal to the electorate in his bid for President, but I take him at his word: with each shooting across the country, it’s hard for any of us entrusted with keeping people safe not to wonder what more we can do. I believe that Governor Bullock has taken that charge seriously, and I am proud of him for taking on the corrupt gun lobby that blocks reform at every turn.
And if Bullock’s bid for President fails, his evolution on guns will not prevent him from running against Steve Daines for the Senate. The corrupt NRA would have attacked Bullock either way, just as they conveniently lowered Jon Tester’s gun rating in order to bolster Matt Rosendale’s chances. The NRA, facing financial ruin and fraud allegations, should not set national gun policy; our duly elected representatives representing us should.
If we could somehow take Bullock’s campaign finance reform proposals national, we could end the power of the NRA, as Bullock notes:
“If we were to pass meaningful anti-corruption laws, then rather than being the most feared man in Washington, Wayne LaPierre would be just another dweeb in a thousand-dollar Italian suit.”
I don’t think Bullock has any interest in a Senate bid, but if he changes his mind and decides to send Steve Daines packing, the position he’s taking on gun violence will be an advantage, not a detriment, to his campaign, because it’s sensible public policy that is far more closely aligned to the way Montanans think than either Republican candidates or national pundits believe.
Guns violence is a national shame and a national health crisis. I’m proud of Governor Bullock for having the courage to change his views and fight for policies that can save lives and put the NRA in its place. In an era when Republican candidates for Governor are so afraid of the power of the NRA that they won’t even acknowledge mass killings on American soil, it’s the kind of courage we need.