This is a piece that Dr. John Lott wrote and submitted to the Missoulian a few weeks before he left the CPRC. It also appeared in the Montana Standard (Butte, Montana) on the same day.
Imagine driving your car along and the rules of the road keep changing from one city or county to another. Montana allows motorists to make a right turn after stopping at a red light, but what if that rule varied by city? The legal blood-alcohol limit is .08%, but what if some towns set it at .04% so the average person reaches it after just one drink? Different parts of the state may also have different rules as to when kids can stop using child car seats.
It would be chaos, and no one would seriously consider having such a patchwork quilt of differing traffic rules. Yet, that is exactly what gun control advocates have wanted to do with Montana’s gun rules. Local jurisdictions would have different rules on where you can carry, whether you are eligible to purchase a gun, and even what type of gun you can have. That is question at the heart of initiative LR130, which is on the ballot this November and would strengthen the state government’s pre-emption law — giving the state the final say on Montana’s gun laws.
Gun control advocates argue local citizens should be able to decide how to keep their communities safe. But safe driving advocates presumably feel the same way.
The legislative referendum was necessary because 15 local governments in Montana had adopted their own rules on where people could carry or on how firearms could be sold. Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a state pre-emption law, so the legislature put LR130 on the ballot. Bullock has vetoed 16 other gun bills that came to his desk and signed none.
Local ordinances are usually used to create gun-free zones, such as parks or particular buildings. These places are supposed to be safer because of it, but the opposite actually happens. Most criminals are smart enough to know they will be more successful if they commit crimes where victims can’t defend themselves. That’s one reason why 94% of the successful mass public shootings in America occur in places where citizens are banned from having guns.
In just the last few years, citizens with permitted concealed handguns have stopped dozens of what would otherwise have been mass public shootings. But these events don’t get national news coverage.
Missoula had its own local ordinance requiring background checks on purchases of guns from private sellers. Missoula City Council President Bryan von Lossberg claims the background check system “saves lives” and that in 20 years background checks stopped 20,000 gun sales to dangerous or prohibited people in Montana.
A large academic literature exists in criminology and economics concerning the failure of background checks and gun-free zones to reduce crime, mass public shootings, or suicides. Over 99% of the time background checks stop people from buying guns, it is a mistake. The background check system confuses the names of law-abiding individuals with those of criminals, resulting in tens of thousands of “false positives” every year. Relying on phonetically similar names along with birth dates just isn’t very accurate.
In 2010, the last year the Department of Justice released a full, annual report on the operation of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (the Obama administration stopped releasing annual reports after that), there were 76,142 denials that led to only 44 federal prosecutions and just 13 convictions.
Half of the money opposing LR-130 comes from Michael Bloomberg’s New York based anti-gun group.
If gun control advocates think gun-free zones or other regulations are good ideas, they should make their arguments to the state legislature. A confusing patchwork of local laws risks turning law-abiding Montanans into criminals.John R. Lott, Jr., “LR130 would prevent patchwork of gun laws,” Missoulian, October 22, 2020.