Facing an often contentious crowd in Missoula on Monday, Sen. Steve Daines reaffirmed his opposition to gun legislation proposed in the wake of several recent mass shootings, saying it would only provide a false sense of security and do little to address the problem.
Instead, Daines said, the U.S. has a deeper issue that will require changes to the juvenile criminal justice system, who qualifies as a terrorist, and funding to harden school defenses.
“I’m concerned about some of the ideas I’m seeing, that there’s going to be more gun control,” Daines said in a Monday interview. “I don’t think the answer is more gun control. We’re not going to be safer with more gun control. We’re going to be safer by addressing the core issue.”
Daines gave a similar response an hour later while addressing 180 people at City Club Missoula, where he said he wouldn’t support red flag laws or expanded background checks, such as the ordinance passed but challenged in Missoula two years ago.
“I think what you see when you go back to these mass shootings is that more gun control would not have prevented these horrible tragedies,” Daines said. “Law-abiding citizens will abide by the law, but these folks who are hellbent on committing evil acts, they bypass the laws. We need to take a look at something deeper, like what’s causing particular young men in our society to commit these very evil acts.”
Daines described the string of tragedies as “heartbreaking” and said he’s reviewed the statistics behind mass shootings dating back to the Columbine massacre in 1999. It’s a long list to be sure, capped most recently when nine were killed in Ohio and 22 others were gunned down while shopping at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
Daines said a deeper review of each crime must be conducted before a universal fix can be applied at the federal level. As it stands, he said, such shootings are often politicized before law enforcement finishes its investigation.
“These evil, evil individuals who have conducted these horrific acts, we need to start looking at their background, start looking at the juvenile system where we have a 16- or 17-year-old making credible rape lists and kill lists,” Daines said. “We need to have a discussion more broadly about what’s happening in our high schools today and what’s causing and producing these young people who are committing these horrendous acts of evil.”
Daines listed a number of examples where quick intervention stopped a potential tragedy, and where the lack of action led to mass murder.
In Ravalli County last year, he noted, school officials acted on what they deemed to be a credible threat posed by a student, leading to his arrest before he was able to carry out an act. In Parkland, Florida, however, no action was taken and the outcome was different.
“We ought to be looking more proactively at how we address these issues with these young people who are saying very evil things,” Daines said. “If you make a criminal threat, that’s a felony, and if you commit a felony and are convicted of that, in the background system, you’re not allowed to buy a firearm. In the juvenile justice system, that’s something we have to be asking ourselves.”
When Daines discussed the issue Monday before City Club, he received both applause and grumbles from members of the audience. He was pressed on the subject by Allison Cobb, a Missoula resident who didn’t get the answers she was looking for.
Cobb wanted the senator to convince her that he was “actually serious about enacting some common-sense legislation.” And while she agreed that a full review of the evidence is necessary, as Daines suggested, she didn’t see his proposals as real solutions.
“The U.S. has more mass shootings by far than any other country in they world,” Cobb said after the event. “Every other county has the Internet, mental illness and video games. Every other country has social media and schools that people can go in to.
“So what makes us different in the United States and vulnerable to mass shootings? It’s our access to guns, and I would like (Daines) to do something about that so people stop getting killed at supermarkets and fairs.”
Missoula took action in 2016 to close what city leaders described as a loophole in federal law allowing anyone to purchase a gun from a private owner without undergoing a federal background check.
But Montana Attorney General Tim Fox challenged the ordinance on constitutional grounds. The Missoula measure, the first in the state, is pending before the state Supreme Court.
When asked, Daines said he also disagreed with the Missoula ordinance. It hasn’t worked in Chicago, a city he described as one of the most dangerous in the U.S.
“What it tells us is that more gun control is not going to be the answer. It’s not going to make our community safer,” he said. “Take a look at these mass shootings and ask yourself if this or that new law would have prevented that evil act. We need to do some soul searching as a country and start looking at the real cause.”
Daines suggested that changing the juvenile criminal justice system could help, along with early intervention. He believes mass shooters should be classified as domestic terrorists, and he supports funding to harden public schools.
That position earned him jeers from some members of Monday’s audience.
“One of the fixes in Parkland was providing federal funds to our schools to harden these targets, to make sure we have adequate systems in place to stop someone from getting in,” Daines said, adding that quick action in Ohio also worked to end the shooting spree.
“We saw this in Dayton. Had it not been for law enforcement, their quick response to that shooter, that situation would have been a whole lot worse. It comes back to this fundamental truth. Good guys who are using force need to be there to stop these individuals.”
“I really want to know what he thinks is the one factor that accounts for the difference between the U.S. and every other country,” she said. “He keeps talking about this being a problem of evil people. He says the U.S. is the greatest country in the world. Does he think we have more evil people running around in it?