Not surprisingly, Gary Marbut, president of the Missoula-based Montana Shooting Sports Association, has a bone to pick with the Montana Human Rights Network.
An outspoken advocate of all things firearm, Marbut is featured prominently in a new network report, “Shooting for Respectability: Firearms, False Patriots, and Politics in Montana.” Marbut says he hasn’t seen the 70-page publication, which ties him to militia groups and other ultra-right organizations, and he doesn’t plan to.
“They just do this guilt-by-innuendo thing,” he says. “I think they believe they get power by smearing and beating up on other people. Frankly, I don’t know who listens to them. They are such a sleazy outfit. It’s a waste of time and energy to respond.”
Along with documenting Marbut’s often-fervent political activities and associations, the nonprofit group’s report examines how the gun lobby keeps nearly all Montana elected officials leashed in re-elective fear, and how its national clout keeps the industry largely free from the constraints of product liability and other regulatory actions designed to protect the public.
“As long as the gun rights movement can frame the debate as freedom and guns versus disarmament and slavery, politicians will be naturally reluctant to support even minimal restrictions on firearms,” the report notes. “Because of the polarized debate over firearms, there is extremely little reasoned discussion of the real issues surrounding guns and the Second Amendment.”
Marbut, a past state legislative candidate, counters that more than 90 percent of Montana households own at least one firearm. Likewise, he says, MSSA is the largest statewide gun group, meaning there’s really not much to debate.
“I’m not sure there is another side of the story in Montana” when it comes to guns, he asserts.
While Marbut’s group claims to represent the views of essentially all Montana gun owners, the network’s report attacks that assertion and argues that MSSA’s operational philosophies align most closely with the outcast Militia of Montana and other extremists.
“Marbut plays a game common among gun activists,” the report alleges. “In the public arena with the spotlight shining on him, he professes to be an advocate for hunters and other shooting sports interests. In reality, Marbut’s views fit squarely with the ‘patriot’ camp. He expouses the conspiratorial theories of his colleagues in the ‘patriot’ movement. He sees ‘power- hungry’ politicians in the United States working to take citizens’ guns in order to facilitate the dreaded New World Order.”
“It’s an example of how far they reach and how little credibility they have,” Marbut says of the network, which he describes as “outrageously irresponsible.” He adds that MSSA has gotten “30 to 40 bills” through the legislature in recent years. That, he says, proves that his group is not coming from the fringe.
But the report opines that politicians across the spectrum are so intimidated by the firearms lobby that most won’t consider opposing it, no matter the issue. And if there is opposition, it’s usually coupled with pleadings of support for the broad sanctity of the Second Amendment.
Take, for example, the case of U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. Baucus angered many gun zealots, including Marbut, when he supported a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases in 1993. Baucus also drew intense fire from the National Rifle Association and other gun advocates for coming out in favor of a federal ban on some types of so-called “assault” weapons.
Marbut, amidst a blitz of other materials, cranked out the state’s first “Ax Max” bumper stickers as part of his campaign to force Baucus to resign his congressional seat. Marbut even proposed that Montana secede from the Union over the assault-weapons ban.
But Marbut’s most controversial action probably came in 1996, when MSSA sponsored full-page newspaper ads portraying Adolf Hitler and the slogan, “All in Favor of Gun Control Raise Your Right Hand.” The ads also urged readers to “Ban Baucus, Not Guns.”
Despite continuing efforts to curry the gun crowd’s favor, Baucus has yet to live down those early stances.
“Gun rights groups have defined firearms issues in a very simplistic way,” the report explains. “People are either for gun control or against it. If you are for it, you are against freedom and a threat to America’s basic liberties, and pro-gun activists use gun issues to bludgeon their political opponents.”
Another target of the report is Matt Brainard, a former Republican state lawmaker who now serves on the Montana Public Service Commission. Brainard, a gunsmith from Florence, is currently running for lieutenant governor with former state Sen. Tom Keating of Billings.
While serving in the legislature, Brainard was part of a hard-right faction that included such notables as Rep. Bob Davies, a Bozeman Republican who once said President Clinton should be executed; Rep. Aubyn Curtiss, an anti-United Nations Republican from Fortine; and Rep. Rick Jore, a Charlo Republican who later bolted for the Constitution Party because he found the Montana GOP too liberal.
In 1995, Brainard sponsored a House resolution urging Montanans to own weapons “suitable for service in the militia.” The measure, the network reports, attracted support from Marbut, as well as Davies, who has served on the MSSA board of directors, and Kamala Webb, a Militia of Montana organizer who famously supported the Montana Freemen during their 1996 confrontation with federal authorities.
Brainard, a former president and board member of Citizens to Preserve the Second Amendment, also sponsored a variety of other bills dealing with militia issues, citizen-dispatched grand juries, and a repeal of state emergency powers granted during the Great Depression. According to the network, he also took part in last summer’s Liberty Summit in Missoula, an event that featured Marbut, Militia of Montana founder John Trochmann and right-wing gadfly Rob Natelson. Brainard did not respond to an interview request for this story.
Among many other gun advocates and their political prey featured in the report is Joyce Schmidt, the Gallatin County official who ran for state auditor in 2000.
Schmidt, who refused to be interviewed by the media about her qualifications for higher office, based her entire campaign on her unswerving support of the right to keep and bear arms at any cost, even though the auditor’s job has nothing to do with guns.
The highlight of Schmidt’s unsuccessful campaign was a shaky homemade video that showed her blasting targets from the hood of a truck at various shooting locales. Her husband even zoomed the camera in tight when she got too close to her rifle’s scope and it bloodied her forehead during one barrage.