Attorney General candidate Tim Fox is challenging opponent Steve Bullock to delineate his position on 18 specific gun rights issues.
"Protecting our gun rights is one of the most important issues in Montana," Fox says. But is it?
Few things seem less likely than that the Montana attorney general will have to decide any key gun rights issues over the next four or eight years. The Montana Legislature won't pass any bills undermining gun rights, and Congress is unlikely to. Even if it does, a state attorney general's opinion isn't likely to matter much one way or the other.
The attorney general's position on any big issue doesn't really strike me as critical, except perhaps on issues that come before the State Land Board. What we really need is an attorney general who:
1. Can provide the state with sound legal counsel, regardless of his personal position on the issues involved.
2. Can write opinions that match what a judge in a similar position would be likely to hold. Attorneys general aren't needed to break new legal ground but to provide realistic interpretations of the law that will withstand judicial scrutiny.
How having a strong opinion about the Second Amendment figures into the work an attorney general actually does isn't clear to me. True, there might be an occasional opportunity for a friend-of-the-court brief on a gun-related case, but that doesn't mean that Fox's passion about the topic will necessarily translate into good legal doctrine.
One might argue instead that passion isn't necessarily a virtue in the attorney general's office. Good judgment, not strong emotions, is what's required.