Montana’s newly elected Republican Congressman Greg Gianforte sold himself to voters as a staunch defender of gun rights. Now, he may have a personal interest in this fight.
Gianforte, who on Thursday won a special election over Democrat Rob Quist for a seat vacated after Ryan Zinke was appointed by President Trump to be Secretary of the Interior, was charged with assault for body-slamming Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian. If convicted, the conservative congressman could be prohibited from owning or receiving a gun in seven states.
He may also be prohibited from carrying a weapon in his home state. Montana prohibits citizens from receiving a concealed-weapons permit if they have been found guilty of a misdemeanor that “included as an element of the offense an act, attempted act, or threat of … serious bodily harm.” Should he be found guilty, he would not be able to take advantage of the national concealed-carry reciprocity law that he supports.
Gianforte’s campaign did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether he has a concealed-weapons permit or travels with guns.
According to eyewitness reports and an audio recording made by Jacobs, Gianforte grew incensed when the campaign reporter attempted to ask him questions about Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Gianforte slammed Jacobs to the ground and punched him in the head, breaking his glasses. Sheriff Brian Gootkin of Gallatin County said Gianforte had been charged with misdemeanor assault — a less-serious, state-level offense than aggravated assault, which is a felony.
A review of state gun laws as catalogued by the State Firearm Laws project at Boston University and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence shows that Oregon, California, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, New York and Connecticut all restrict people convicted with the lowest level of assault from possessing or buying weapons. In those states, an attack need not result in serious injury to qualify as assault: the victim merely needs to have experienced pain. Illinois, meanwhile, bars people from possessing guns while they are on probation for a conviction of a violent misdemeanor. These prohibitions are placed on top of federal laws barring people with histories of violence from buying or owning guns.
The National Rifle Association endorsed Gianforte in March, and poured $286,445.17 worth of independent expenditures into the race. The group cited Gianforte’s support for national concealed-carry reciprocity, a law that would allow people with permits to carry a weapon in their home state to carry in all 50 states.
Some public health experts argue that less-serious violent crimes are a strong indicator than an individual is too much of a risk to others or themselves to possess a deadly weapon. Jeffrey Swanson, a psychiatrist at Duke University, studied the risk to public safety posed by people who engaged in violent, impulsive behavior and concluded that lashing out in a violent fashion is a stronger indicator that someone will seriously injure or kill another person than other categories used to prohibit people from buying guns, like a history of mental illness or drug use.
While celebrating his victory on Thursday night, Gianforte apologized to Jacobs. A GoFundMe page was setup to replace the reporter’s glasses, which were broken in the assault. Jacobs tweeted that he will donate any proceeds to the Committee to Project Journalists.