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Tester Speaks Out Against Gun Confiscation, For Expanded Background Checks

A man holding an AR-style rifle.
A man holding an AR-style rifle.

Nearly two dozen U.S. Senate Democrats are planning a marathon floor session this Tuesday evening to speak out on what they call congressional inaction on gun violence. Montana’s Democratic Senator, Jon Tester, won’t be among them. But Tester says it's long past time the Senate take up gun violence legislation.

Senator Tester says he supports expanding background checks on gun sales.

"As my son-in-law once said, 'If you’re afraid of a background check, maybe you shouldn’t have a gun.'"

Tester, Montana’s senior senator supports the Manchin-Toomey proposal which would essentially expand background checks to most people who buy a firearm from someone other than a federally licensed dealer.

This summer the Helena IR reported that Tester supports reforms like Red Flag laws which permit police or family members to petition courts to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone who may present a threat to themselves or others.

"I think the Red Flag laws are dependent upon the background check database if they’re going to be effective. I can’t tell you if they’re going to pass, but I will tell you the greatest deliberative body in this country, the United States Senate, needs to debate this issue," Tester says.

During his monthly telephone press conference with Montana reporters Tuesday, Tester placed blame for congressional inaction on gun reform legislation squarely on the shoulders of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Democrats are increasing pressure on McConnell, who is up for reelection in 2020.

"The Senator from Kentucky, who happens to be the leader of the Senate hasn’t allowed a lot of bills to come to the floor. We have an opportunity on this particular issue, which is a real issue, that we can protect law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights and do our best to make sure that terrorists, criminals and court-adjudicated folks who are mentally ill don’t have the right, because I think they’ve forfeited their Second Amendment Rights."

But Tester draws the line at mandated gun buyback laws, programs critics describe as outright gun confiscation.

Many Democratic presidential candidates have offered gun reform proposals, but Beto O’Rourke drew national attention last week with this remark during the ABC News Democratic presidential debate.

"Hell yes we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore," O'Rourke said.

Again, Montana Senator Jon Tester.

"There’s a bunch of folks that are running for president that are at less than one-percent. Beto is one of them last time I checked. He’s trying to get a little air under his wings, so you have to say stuff that’s – I don’t know - I won’t say obnoxious, but out there."

Tester thinks O’Rourke’s proposal is unrealistic and ultimately only helps Republicans who are eager to portray Democrats as gun grabbers.

"Look, the bottom line is this. You guys have all watched the shootings, whether it’s Sandy Hook, or whether it's a nightclub in Florida or whether it’s what happened in El Paso. It’s our job to debate stuff. I’m not somebody who’s going to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, that’s just not going to happen under my watch. But by the same token I think there are some common sense things we can do that will ensure our Second Amendments rights are preserved."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week said the only thing preventing gun violence legislation from receiving floor votes is whether President Donald Trump will sign it or not.

Politico, meanwhile, reports Trump will not consider the House-passed universal background checks bill as part of his proposed gun package.

Copyright 2020 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Edward O'Brien is Montana Public Radio's Associate News Director.