The lobbying arm for the National Rifle Association is among the groups targeting Montana’s U.S. Senate race over the issue of guns in hopes of unseating Democratic incumbent Jon Tester. The issue of the 2nd Amendment was raised during a televised debate Saturday evening.
The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action last week downgraded Tester to a ‘D’ after he voted against confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.
So Tester was asked during the debate, sponsored by the Montana Television Network and Yellowstone Public Radio, if he believed the 2nd Amendment was an absolute right - that basically it doesn’t allow for any reasonable restrictions or limitations of any kind.
Tester said he’s a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment and uses it to protects his farm and family.
"In fact when Matt Rosendale was building houses in Maryland I was butchering beef and pork. I literally made my living with a gun," said Tester. "It is critically important."
He said he feels so strongly about the issue that he’s voted for expanding 2nd Amendment rights for law abiding citizens.
"If you are a criminal, you need to have a background check ‘cause you forfeited that right. If you are court adjudicated mentally ill, you forfeited that right. If you’re a terrorist, you forfeited that right," said Tester. "So I think we need to have good honest background checks but when we pass a gun from father to son or friend to friend there shouldn’t be background checks required. The liability is obvious there."
In a rebuttal, Republican Matt Rosendale said he’s the one with the A rating and the endorsement from the National Rifle Association.
"It’s very easy for Jon to stand there and say he supports the 2nd Amendment but it’s all very hollow when he’s willing to confirm a Supreme Court nominee – Sotomayor – who came out and said the right to own a gun is not a fundamental right. So he let somebody else do his bidding," said Rosendale.
Rosendale said that was not acceptable to him.
Under the debate’s format, Tester had the last word on the issue. He repeated that he was raised with a gun.
"It’s critically important to me. It’s critically important to being a Montanan, raised here my entire life and I was introduced to guns early and I still use them today. As I’ve said I’ve got more guns than I need but fewer than I want," Tester said.
The issue of guns can be tricky for Democrats, said MSU Political Scientist David Parker.
"He (Tester) didn’t say that there are limits on the 2nd Amendment right but suggested that there are some. For example the background checks that certain people shouldn’t have guns," said Parker, who noted it was a nuanced answer.
"But the reason that I say it’s particularly tricky is because Matt Rosendale is coming out and saying, ‘look the NRA is coming out an supporting me. Gave me an A rating. The Gun Owners of America also came out with a mailer. They gave Matt Rosendale and A rating. And certainly guns are a tricky issue in this particular environment here in Montana because so many people hunt, so many people own guns," he said.
Parker said the U.S. Senate race is tightening in the final weeks before the November 6th election. Tester is seeking a 3rd term. Besides Rosendale, Libertarian Rick Breckenridge is also on the ballot.