A crowd that gathered outside U.S. Sen. Max Baucus’ Bozeman office Friday represented the opposing pressures all Montana politicians have to balance in a state some dub as politically purple.
The noon rally, initiated by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, was billed as a protest against Baucus’ “no” vote to background checks on Wednesday in the U.S. Senate. The Manchin-Toomey bill would have expanded background checks to include private sales at gun shows and all Internet sales, while continuing to exempt most sales between family members and friends.
About 20 protesters assembled outside the Lamme Street office, holding signs produced by MAIG, a national group co-founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Dan Lourie of the Montana Democrats carried an American flag and a homemade sign saying “Shame on you.” He said the background-checks vote had nothing to do with the Second Amendment.
“It has to do with being beholden to the (National Rifle Association) – it was a shameful capitulation to the groups that pay him money,” Lourie said.
According to the Sunlight Foundation, the NRA gave to Baucus almost $7,500 in 2008 and more than $22,000 since 1990.
When asked if he’d be protesting a Republican senator, Lourie said no. Lourie said he was there because Baucus is a Democrat, so his vote was a betrayal.
But Ruth Kopec said she’d protest regardless of her senator’s party.
Kopec said she wasn’t against guns but that they should have controls, especially if controls would save lives.
“If I won’t come out here to do this, then I’m no better than Max,” Kopec said. “Every right has limitations. We have free speech, but you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.”
About eight people who agreed with Baucus’ vote also showed up, many wearing holstered pistols.
Tim Delph, a gun dealer with a federal firearms license, said he was there to stand up for his constitutional rights. He said the background check law didn’t infringe on those, but it was unnecessary and it would be better to enforce the laws already in place.
“When a gun is sold on the Internet, a (licensed) dealer has to send the gun to another (licensed) dealer so there’s already a system in place,” Delph said. “If Montanans are here for their own reasons, that’s OK. But this is New York money coming in to influence people.”
Paul Landsgaard, vice president of the Gun Owners of America, said he received an alert about the rally from Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association.
“News travels fast,” Landsgaard said. “Max hasn’t always done well by us. He voted for that U.N. small-arms treaty. But we support him when he does something right.”
In a written statement, Baucus said the administration could do a better job of enforcing existing laws.
“Montanans have told me loud and clear that they oppose any new gun controls. And I very much respect that - I agree,” Baucus said.
The vote was 54-46 in favor, but the bill needed 60 votes to overcome a Republican filibuster.
Baucus was one of four Democrats to vote against the bill. But he was the only Democrat targeted by a MAIG-sponsored rally Friday. No other rallies were held in Montana.
Rallies were also held in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, North Carolina and Ohio.