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Pair of Montana Democrats may be gun lobby’s best allies

MONDAY, MARCH 30, 2009

HELENA – Two Montana Democrats are leading the charge against gun control – and forcing former political foes to recognize that Democrats could be their strongest allies while the party controls Washington, D.C.

U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester have been taking the lead on issues that only the most ardent gun rights advocates were talking about.

Just last week they joined Republican U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana to pressure the Defense Department in a move credited with overturning a short-lived brass ban. The brass is important to gun aficionados who reload their own bullets or seek to buy cheaper ammunition from companies that purchase the surplus brass.

“The letter sent by the Montana delegation had a major impact on the reversal of that decision, and for that, gun owners all over the country are grateful,” said Chris W. Cox, the National Rifle Association’s chief lobbyist.

Tester and Baucus were also among the first taking shots at an Obama administration statement in favor of renewing the assault rifle ban, telling fellow Democrats to expect strong opposition.

Tester said the gun lobby knows it can trust him and Baucus – and gun-control Democrats know not to even bring up the issue.

The alliance is not lost on gun-control advocates.

“It’s not like Democrats are automatically on one side and Republicans on the other. It can cut both ways,” said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “It is still very frustrating to us.”

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