NorthWestern Energy, a South-Dakota based energy conglomerate with over one billion dollars in gross annual revenue, likes that it can ban its employees from carrying firearms at work so much so that it’s willing to fight against a law that wouldn’t necessarily impact that ability. By their own admission, this represents the seventh legislative session in which the energy conglomerate has directed its political mercenaries in Helena to stand against legislation aimed at strengthening legal protections for the civil right to keep and bear arms . . .
On Friday, March 13, NorthWestern lobbyist John Fitzpatrick gave testimony in opposition to Montana House Bill 598, which would submit to popular referendum a bill that states, in part:
The state may not burden a person’s right to bear arms unless it proves that burdening the preson’s right to bear arms furthers a compelling state interest and is the least restrictive means to further that interest.
This is apparently outrageous to NorthWestern energy, which bans its employees from carrying while on the job. Mr. Fitzpatrick’s maladroit testimony can be heard here (audio only; unfortunately, no transcript appears to be available). The Montana Standard quoted Fitzpatrick as testifying on the bill thusly:
You can talk all you want about the state establishing a compelling right to take away gun rights, and that’s going to fail miserably, in the context of someone saying, ‘All this bill does is allow kids to bring guns to school.’
Fitzpatrick’s testimony takes a decidedly weird turn when he starts dishing out electoral advice for the GOP (whose members appear to be generally backing the measure). He testified that because Montana Governor Steve Bullock’s nephew was apparently killed in 1994 by a boy who–illegally, of course–brought a gun to school, this means that Bullock will campaign against the referendum. Although Gov. Bullock has been a bit wishy-washy on the Second Amendment in the past, I did not see any evidence that he has yet taken a position either way on the measure.
Fitzpatrick went on to argue that the GOP would take a shellacking in the upcoming electoral cycle, since the measure would motivate Democrats to turn out in force to defeat the measure. He also said turnout would be 70% in 2016, making me wonder if NorthWestern also manufactured voting machines.
The Montana Standard reports that Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association fired off a letter to the energy giant in response to Fitzpatrick’s testimony. Although the full text of the letter wasn’t available, Marbut apparently suggested that the energy giant may suffer political consequences as a result of its political posturing.
Fitzpatrick, showing a lack of a sense of irony that I haven’t seen since Aaron Eckhart’s bravura performance as a lobbyist for big tobacco in Thank You For Smoking, suggested that Marbut was attempting to “bully” the large corporation. (The historian in me has the sense that a company in the business of resource extraction might have a few more ‘bullying’ resources at hand than an association of sportsmen and recreational shooters.)
To be fair, though, NorthWestern Energy’s hired gun wasn’t the only lobbyist to testify against the bill; representatives from the Montana Petroleum Association, Montana Bankers Association, and Montana Credit Union Association did likewise. Fitzpatrick was just the only one who didn’t confine his testimony to the perceived merits of the legislation.
We will have to see how the political process plays out on this one. In the meantime, residents of Montana might be well advised to consider alternate measures to meet their energy needs if they can. Not just because of the gun issue, but it just might be safer, generally.