BILLINGS — On the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, people in Montana are debating laws surrounding semi-automatic rifles and gun violence.
"It can be a volatile issue. We’re obviously a state where guns are a part of our culture and always has been," said Shani Henry, co-lead for the Montana chapter of Moms Demand Action on Wednesday.
The group was founded in the days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and is now leading the charge for what they call sensible gun control.
"We are 26 times more likely than any other civilized nation to die by gun violence. 26 times. So, people who argue that we need more firearms, and we need more good guys with guns. Ok, if that was true wouldn’t we be safer than any other country?" said Henry.
But in Montana, recent attempts to change gun laws have been futile.
"Any significant legislation regarding firearm violence is shut down, largely by Republicans," Henry added.
Only one bill was introduced during the last legislative session related to any kind of gun control.
The tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Texas, where 19 students and two adults were shot and killed, prompted many states to consider more regulations on guns. Montana lawmakers, however, have taken little action.
"There was a bill before the Legislature regarding emergency restraining orders. To take people's guns away if somebody reported they could be dangerous. That has huge problems with due process besides it doesn’t fit Montana culture well. That bill was killed immediately in the first committee it came to because it’s just not suitable for Montana," said Gary Marbut, the president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, on Wednesday.
Marbut said Montanans have zero interest in any laws that favor gun control.
"Those people are in the political minority in Montana, and that’s one of the reasons why we have constitutional rights in America. To prevent the political minority from preying on everybody else with their dreamy ideas about utopia and how they’re going to control everybody," added Marbut.
According to data from the CDC, Montana ranked eighth in the nation for gun-related deaths from 2017 to 2021. Eighty-three percent of those deaths were suicide.
"If you subtract suicides from gun deaths, and you subtract the gun deaths in a few urban areas where it’s done commonly over drugs and gang-related turf, then America has a very low amount of gun violence compared to lots of other countries in the world," Marbut added.
And it’s viewpoints like Marbut's and Henry’s that highlight the divide in the country one reason that little has changed in terms of gun laws, in the wake of the tragedy at Uvalde one year ago.
"The majority of Montanans are ethical responsible gun owners, and we want sensible gun legislation," said Henry.