The View From Montana, Where Guns Are An Important Election Issue
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
I'm David Greene broadcasting this morning from the Feed Cafe in Bozeman, Mont. It's been a very welcoming audience all morning here.
GREENE: And we have a guest who's sitting at the table with me in front of this awesome crowd that we're getting the view from Montana this election year. And with me is one of Montana's two U.S. senators, Democrat Jon Tester. Senator, thanks for coming in. Good morning.
JON TESTER: It's great to be with you, David. Thank you.
GREENE: It sounds like you have a fan or two here. And I understand we - did we pull you off your tractor this morning? Is that what you'd normally be doing on your farm?
TESTER: Well, I - yesterday was a big day for me. I wrapped up seeding. I walked in the house at a quarter to 8 last night. And so it was - spring seeding is done now, I hope.
GREENE: Good work.
TESTER: Yeah, exactly. I did it all for you.
TESTER: And then we, you know, showered up, jumped in the car and picked up a couple hours of sleep, which is plenty. And we're here.
GREENE: Plenty - is that what farmers normally do? Two hours is enough?
TESTER: Sleep is totally overrated.
GREENE: There you go - in the radio business and the overnight radio business. Let me ask you about a tractor. Someone told me that's a really place to work out problems. Do you do a lot of sort of reflecting and thinking?
TESTER: It is absolutely an amazing place to think through problems and sort through issues because you're alone. And all you hear is the hum of the motor. And as long as everything's going along fine - you don't have breakdown or something - it's absolutely very therapeutic. And it gives you a real chance to look at issues internally from different angles to try to come up with the best conclusion.
GREENE: Well, you set up the question I want to ask you about really, really well because one difficult issue that's come up a lot as we've been traveling your state listening to people has been guns. I just want to play the voice of a rancher, his name is Ron Portner. And he said even the smallest new restriction on guns can be a slippery slope and can threaten his Second Amendment rights.
RON PORTNER: If you let a chink in the armor then, you know, you go to step one, then two, then three, then four. And pretty soon, we've got gun control that we really didn't hope would happen.
GREENE: Do you agree with that, Senator?
TESTER: Well, I think there's some truth to letting the camel's nose under the tent. But I also think that in this - the days we live and the number of mass shootings we have and the terrorism impacts that quite frankly, background checks on - making sure that criminals don't have guns - and we're not going to keep them out of all the criminal's hands - and making sure that folks who are court adjudicated mentally ill don't have guns and making sure that terrorists don't have guns, I think is important.
That being said, the Second Amendment is very important. I think it's important to the whole country, but it may be magnified here. I think we look at guns from a different perspective than maybe they do in some of the more populous areas like Chicago or Miami or wherever. And we look at it as a tool. I come from a unique vantage point on that 'cause for 20 years, my wife and I ran a custom butcher shop.
So there wasn't a day that went by that we weren't slaughtering an animal. That aside, I also farm. And yesterday morning, I jumped on the four wheeler and went out and checked some fields to see if the wheat was coming up. And there's some gophers on the road, and the first thing that went through my mind is when I get back to the house, grab the 22 and go out and pop some rodents 'cause they're a pest and they eat my grain.
GREENE: Did you do that?
TESTER: I didn't because I wanted to finish seeding last night so I could come do the show today.
GREENE: That was a priority.
TESTER: Yeah, exactly.
GREENE: Can I just asked you - I mean, you have a long time gun owner. You've long gotten a great rating from the National Rifle Association. You met with families in 2013...
TESTER: I did.
GREENE: ...Of some of the kids who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. Did something change in your mind then?
TESTER: Well, it was a though meeting. I mean, it is the only meeting I've ever had where after they left, I broke down because those folks were the same age as my grandkids. And so, quite frankly, it was tough. But that aside, the gun restrictions that were talked about putting on wouldn't have kept the guns out of that clown's hands that was in Sandy Hook. There's no if, ands or buts about it. So we've got to be careful what we do and when we move forward.
Like I said, I think it's a no-brainer that we should try to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, folks who are, like I said, court adjudicated mentally ill and terrorists. That being said, Mr. Portner has a very good point in that where is enough enough? Where do you say, OK, now things are good because other folks will say you'll never keep the guns out of the hands of people who want to do wrong in this country.
And that's also true. So you've got to find the sweet spot. You've got to find where honest people are protected, and they have their ability to own and keep a firearm and do our best to try to keep the country safe.
GREENE: You say finding the sweet spot, that balance. It's been such a polarizing issue for so long, and I just want to play one other voice from your state. It's a physician named Ann Hingle Stoltz, and she's married to a rancher in central Montana.
ANN HINGLE STOLTZ: I think part of the problem is we have a small group with lots of money who have too much influence and control over politicians - basically, the NRA.
GREENE: Meaning they spend money to fight anything that comes up?
HINGLE STOLTZ: Any logical decisions about it. I mean, if you even begin to try and talk about any type of gun control, the NRA, you know, just stops it immediately like you're being anti-American.
GREENE: Does the NRA stand in the way of that compromise you're looking for?
TESTER: Look, I think - listening to that, I think that the term gun control is just a bad term. I mean, it is a bad term. And quite frankly, the NRA has its impacts, there's no doubt about it. You saw the reaction after Sandy Hook. But the bottom line is that I don't represent the NRA. I represent the people of the state of Montana. And the people of the state of Montana are pro-Second Amendment folks, just like they're pro-First Amendment folks.
And they value their privacy and those kind of things. So I'm going to do my best to protect the law-abiding citizens of this state. And the NRA has its impacts, make no mistake about it. But we do our best to represent the people of this state, not any single group that's out there.
GREENE: All right, I want to ask you about privacy in a different way. I had a woman tell me that asking her who she was going to vote for was kind of off-limits. I had a rancher tell me that asking how many cattle he owed was off-limits.
TESTER: Yeah, you'll get in trouble for that, yeah.
GREENE: Does that say something about Montana?
TESTER: Yeah, well, I mean, we're Democrats, Republicans, Independents, but we're all a little bit libertarian. And we value our privacy in a big, big way.
GREENE: Well, Senator, thanks for letting me come to your state. And thanks to all the people in this room. And thanks to the people of Montana for welcoming us this week. It's been a great visit.
TESTER: Thanks for coming.
GREENE: That's Democratic Sen. Jon Tester from the state of Montana. I'll let you get back to farming. And we're going to listen to a little bit more music from Montana musician Jenn Adams.
JENN ADAMS: (Singing) Listen closely. You can hear the brakeman slowing. Toss away. And out on the road the silo.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.