For the most part, legislation in Helena gets written, introduced, adopted, or killed without much fanfare. However, there are occasions when a piece of legislation gets a lot of attention, and more often than not, it is when the subject of the legislation touches anti-infanticide issues or involves the Second Amendment. For the record, House Bill 258 focuses on the latter of the two.
Written by the President of Montana Shooting Sports Association, Gary Marbut, and introduced by Montana Representative, Jedediah Hinkle, the intent of the bill reads as follows:
AN ACT PROHIBITING THE ENFORCEMENT OF ANY FEDERAL BAN ON
OR REGULATION OF FIREARMS, MAGAZINES, AMMUNITION, AMMUNITION COMPONENTS, OR
FIREARM ACCESSORIES; AND PROVIDING AN IMMEDIATE EFFECTIVE DATE.”
As reported previously by Montana Daily Gazette, the bill was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Barry Usher. This resulted in Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA) issuing a blistering critique in an email to MSSA supporters, which stopped just short of impugning Usher and fellow Republicans of backsliding on gun rights, but referred to them as “usually our friends” and encouraged those contacting them to “be nice, even if firm.”
Marbut’s spear was clearly tipped toward the Montana Sheriff’s and Peace Officer’s Association (MSPOA) who – in typical fashion – lobbied against a bill designed to assert Montanan’s gun rights. Their objection to the bill, per usual, was replete with the regular bloviating pontification on safety.
This is the fourth time the MSPOA opposed the same bill in previous years including in 2013, 2015, and 2017.
Marbut wrote to the MSSA…
Except for HB 258 supporters Sheriff Jesse Slaughter of Cascade County and Sheriff Tom Rummel of Sanders County, you need to get on the phone to your local elected sheriff and complain bitterly that sheriffs have allowed their state association, MSPOA, to simply run amok as the most anti-gun entity in Montana. Truly, most Montana sheriffs are not anti-gun, but they have failed miserably to control the organization that speaks for them in Helena.
Pro-gun conservatives who voted to table the bill include Rep. Usher, Rep. Berglee (by proxy), Rep. Regier, and Rep. Skees (and others) who almost always support pro-gun bills. Meanwhile, a number of pro-gun conservatives voted not to table the bill, including Rep. Ler and Rep. Phalen from Eastern Montana.
The Montana Daily Gazette has also confirmed through confidential sources that perhaps the biggest reason Usher tabled the bill was not primarily to review portions of it that appeared problematic to Rep. Mercer or anyone else, and certainly was not in deference to the MSPOA. In reality, it was an intentional decision to “knock Hinkle down a peg or two” for whipping votes opposing the chair.
Hinkle, who first served in the Montana Senate, has riled some representatives for being outspoken in a way considered by several to be uncouth or unproductive. One representative told the Gazette, “Jed [Hinkle] is a nice guy. He’s a good guy. But he’s obnoxious sometimes. Maybe a tad zealous. He needs to learn his place.”
Another representative, also speaking on the grounds of anonymity, told the Gazette, “[Hinkle] probably deserved it. But he’ll learn his lesson and the bill will get passed and we’ll move along.”
The Montana Daily Gazette has also learned that there is every intention from at least most on the judiciary committee to pass the bill.
One member on the judiciary committe reported to the Gazette, “The bill was tabled, but can be picked up any time. We expect it to get picked back up again. Everyone needs to chill.”
When asked if Usher had backed down due to pressure from the MSPOA, they responded, “Absolutely not. Usher is former law enforcement, but he’s solid. This has nothing to do with MSPOA whining.”
There were specific items in the legislation that caused caution on the pro-gun side to disagree with – or at least be cautious – concerning some of the legislation’s language or overall impact on Montana Law Enforcement. Chiefly, there is some concern – yet to be meted out – that language in the bill could prevent federal law enforcement assistance to Montana law enforcement agencies. Raising this issue was Rep. Bill Mercer (HD26), who is not on the judiciary committee but who is often consulted for advice because he is an attorney and former prosecutor. Marbut, on the other hand, clearly rejects this assertion.
The Big Sky Public Policy Institute has promised to review the bill for possible negative ramifications early this week. Its president, and Montana Daily Gazette publisher, Jordan Hall, investigated various reports and interviewed individuals while in Helena over the weekend.
When asked, Hall said, “Here’s what I found out. There are multiple reasons this bill was tabled. It’s insanely inaccurate to say the Republicans on the judiciary committee are anti-gun (which of course, Marbut has not alleged). There is at least one reason – good or not – for some time to be given to review the bill further. But almost all Republicans want to see this passed.”
He went on, “Additionally, I understand why Republicans want discipline in their ranks and why a perceived breach of decorum on the part of Hinkle might get a hand slapped like this. After all, Democrats remain formidable despite being outnumbered 2 to 1 in the legislature primarily because they demand conformity and are vicious to legislators who step out of line.”
Hall added, “But Republicans operate by conscience, not by pragmatism. That means Republicans will always struggle more than Democrats to be united. We are capable of independent thought, which creates conflict. I suspect, in the end, Republicans will ‘hug it on’ with this bill.”
He concluded, “Marbut is right to go after MSPOA and not Usher. MSPOA is the bad guy. Republicans just need to take a breath and stay collected. As a constituent, I don’t really care how the sausage is made. If the bill gets passed, we’re good. We forgive easy enough.”
However Marbut’s call-out seems to have worked, and the objection to HB 258 by MSPOA drew the ire of many a Montana gun owner, which resulted in a voluminous amount of phone calls to sheriffs across Montana. MSPOA released a statement regarding HB258, which can be seen by clicking here.
Cascade County Sheriff Jesse Slaughter is a board member for MSPOA and Sheriff Richard Mack is the President of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a nationally recognized organization. Sheriff Slaughter broke from the MSPOA on the vote over HB 258, a decision that he explored in greater depth on Montana Gazette Radio alongside Sheriff Richard Mack.
As stated earlier in the article, HB258 was written by Gary Marbut of MSSA and introduced by Representative Jedediah Hinkle from Montana HD 67. Both men joined Jim White from Montana Gazette Radio to discuss the legislation and the controversy surrounding it.