ALAN SUDERMAN Associated Press Writer
HELENA Lawmakers took shots at each other Saturday over a proposed gun-rights bill, the day after it was tabled by a committee Democrats control. “I’m disappointed,” Rep. Jack Wells, R-Bozeman, said in an interview. “The Democrats ... apparently don’t support gun rights.” When told of Wells’ remarks, Sen. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, fired back that Wells was “anti-law enforcement” and “does not represent the interest of the safe community.” He scoffed at the notion that he was against gun rights and pointed out that he was an expert marksman in the Army and a champion biathlete. Jent said the bill was a bad idea proposed by a “crazy fringe outfit.” “I’m tired of a bunch of wingnuts from the Montana Shooting Sports Association thinking they dictate public policy in this state,” Jent said. “And Republicans ought to stand up to the MSSA.” Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association said in a telephone interview that the bill was crucial to clarify that law-abiding people legally can brandish guns to defray potential conflicts. He said most Montanans agree. “We’re really in the majority in Montana as I see it,” Marbut said. Rep. Ed Butcher, R-Winifred, agreed. He said the Senate is dominated by liberals whose views on guns were far afield from the political mainstream. The bill’s opponents, which include law enforcement agencies, have said the measure will give criminals more rights to assert selfdefense in violent crimes and make prosecuting them harder. “There’s already a right to selfdefense in Montana, period,” said the committee’s chairman, Sen. Jesse Laslovich, D-Anaconda. Wells said he was frustrated that his attempts to work with law enforcement agencies on the bill were rebuffed. Supporters of the bill said the police want a monopoly on being able to carry a gun. The issue has been wrapped up in partisan politics ever since the state Republican Party used it as the centerpiece of attack advertising, earlier this month, against Democrats. The measure’s fate may have been sealed at Wednesday’s hearing on the bill. Yellowstone County Attorney Dennis Paxinos told committee members that a woman who had been touted as an example of someone standing to benefit from the bill was a drug user who had gone “nutso.” The bill took a tortured route through House floor debates to reach the Senate. After being supported initially, the bill was killed amid pressure from police groups, was resuscitated with the help of gun-rights activists and then was supported 57-43. Gun-rights groups have pushed for the legislation, often called a “no-retreat” law, in other states as well. The bill is House Bill 340.