U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., has a history of making dubious claims. Perhaps none was more dubious than his response to the Las Vegas massacre: “History shows us that more gun laws do not make our society safer.”

David Crisp
David Crisp

The senator’s grasp of history has never been firm. In a fundraising email even before Donald Trump was elected, Daines once said that “the world is more dangerous than ever.” That’s true only if one disregards nearly all of human history.

Science isn’t his strong point either. Daines voted against a Senate amendment stating that “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”

“The climate has always been changing,” Daines said recently. “We go through warmer cycles, cooler cycles, droughts, excessive precipitation.”

That’s true but entirely irrelevant. Pumping billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year doesn’t cancel natural changes in climate. It distorts them.

More recently, Daines has been arguing for more intensive forest management to fight wildfires, essentially making the case that we have to cut down trees in order to save them.

The science on this is complicated, but some forest experts argue that forests are vast and that thinning practices are limited and temporary. Except in certain circumstances, such as close to houses, they may do no good at all.

Daines presumably is aware that the world is more complicated than his ideology permits. Clear-eyed business savvy combined with a willingness to blink at conflicting evidence always has been his political marketing strategy. His partner in legislative crime, U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., seems to have adopted the same strategy.

Daines’ recent statements about gun laws show that nothing has changed. Daines once accused political opponent Amanda Curtis of being an extremist on gun control while touting his own A+ rating from the National Rifle Association. He apparently didn’t notice that the NRA endorsement, by definition, made him an extremist, too.

To be fair, evidence about the effectiveness of gun laws isn’t as persuasive as one might prefer. But a solid and growing body of data suggests that gun laws actually can help reduce gun deaths.

German Lopez provides a readable overview of the evidence at vox.com. Short version: The United States has a firearms homicide rate about four times higher than the next-most dangerous developed country. The U.S. has nearly 89 guns for every 100 people; ranking second, at fewer than 55 guns per 100 people is Yemen, not exactly the model for how gun ownership enhances the rule of law.

A recent review of more than 130 studies in 10 countries found that reducing the number of guns reduces the number of gun deaths. Harvard and Boston University researchers have found similar results. Additional evidence is posted here and here.

None of this is meant to call for repeal of the Second Amendment. The founders wrote it for a reason, and their opinions have to be respected. I would love to hear their opinions about a Second Amendment that allows a mentally unstable citizen to own a cache of firearms powerful enough to hold off the entire Continental Army.

But we must not let our respect for the Constitution override our respect for evidence. Even conservative hero Antonin Scalia, in his Supreme Court opinion in the Heller case, acknowledged that the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.

The right to bear arms, he wrote, is not a “right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

He added, “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

And let’s just dispense with the argument that the Second Amendment was designed to protect citizens from a tyrannical government. As George Washington demonstrated in the Whiskey Rebellion and Abraham Lincoln demonstrated in the Civil War, the right to bear arms does not include the right to use those arms to overthrow the government. Traitors are not allowed to have weapons.

Nothing in the Second Amendment prohibits us from imposing reasonable restrictions on gun ownership, any more than the First Amendment prohibits us from banning distribution of pornography on school grounds.

What we really need is a willingness to discuss the gun issue openly and honestly, taking all of the evidence into account. Unfortunately, our junior senator would rather ignore evidence than try to understand it.

David Crisp is a longtime Billings journalist and college professor who writes a weekly column for Last Best News.