North Dakota Gubernatorial Candidate's Gun Claims Called Into Question

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North Dakota Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller's claim about using a gun to protect her family's store in her teenage years is being called into question in her run for governor, but Miller has some eyewitnesses willing to back up her story: her parents. 

In one of Miller's campaign ads, the candidate boasts that "as a teenager, I protected my family's store from thieves with a shotgun" before vowing to protect North Dakotans' Second Amendment rights if elected governor. 

"Gun grabbers would leave us defenseless: the same liberals pushing to defund the police," she says in the ad entitled "Guns." 

The Forum newspaper decided to investigate Miller's story, and while they couldn't come up with any police reports (the local sheriff doesn't have any records going back further than 2008), they did find two individuals who wholeheartedly corroborated Miller's story. Gen and Ralph Miller, the candidate's mother and father, told reporters that the family was like a "little SWAT team" back then, with guns at the ready and cars parked in the driveway pointed towards the street so they could get to the store quickly when the burglar alarm went off. 

The story seems fantastical, her father, Ralph Miller, acknolwedged. People have questioned the lieutenant governor’s claims, which she has repeated while campaigning for governor.

But Ralph Miller, 88, said that’s how it happened more than once in the 1970s and ’80s. 

“Why is it hard to believe that we were robbed?” asked Tammy Miller’s 85-year-old mother, Gen Miller. 

In a recent interview with The Forum at their Fargo home, Ralph and Gen Miller shared their stories about the Shopping Center, including their encounters with burglars that sometimes resulted in high-speed chases.

“People that it’s never happened to them, they don’t understand it,” Ralph Miller said. “They don’t understand why you would carry a gun.”

As Ralph Miller explains, the family store, known as Miller’s Shopping Center on the Prairie, was repeatedly targeted by burglars over the years. And with law enforcement in rural Ramsay County headquartered about 30 miles from the store, he and his family knew that they had to be their own first responders. The family eventually decided to use guns to protect the store, he said. 

They had a bag with shells and the keys to the vehicle on the key rack, Ralph Miller said. The alarm would usually go off after midnight, he said.

“We were like a little SWAT team,” he said.

When Tammy Miller was home, she would be the first one in the vehicle with her gun when the alarm sounded, Ralph Miller said.

“Here we were just crawling out of bed,” he said.

While the Forum never mentions any of Miller's detractors by name, apparently her story has raised some eyebrows... at least in the newsroom. Reporter April Baumgartner even asked Miller why she's bringing up the story on the campaign trail. 

“As we visit with North Dakotans across the state, they have connected with this story because it captures the values they are familiar with -- hard work, resilience, family,” she said. “These experiences show who I am and what helped shape my values.”

Miller faces U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong on the Republican ticket for the June 11 primary election. The winner will face Democrat Merrill Piepkorn and independent candidate Michael Coachman in the November general election.

Armstrong’s campaign declined to comment on this story.

Ralph Miller said it’s too bad that some people call their daughter a liar because she talks about the burglaries. She would have never said it if it wasn’t true, he said.

“Those folks obviously never grew up in a small town where you depended on family and neighbors to protect property, take care of each other and get things done,” Tammy Miller said.

If the Forum was hoping to catch Miller in a "gotcha" moment, then the editors must be sorely disappointed. There's no evidence that Miller is making up her claim. In fact, given some of the stories her mom and dad told, she downplayed the actions that her family took to protect their livelihood from thieves. Gen Miller described one burglary to Baumgartner where she and her son hopped in her car and began pursuing the burglars, who had taken off in stolen Lincoln. 

“They went down the ditch in a brand-new car, and they took off,” she said. “My son and I jumped in the car, and we followed them. After a while, I said, ‘It’s not worth it.’”

She said she didn’t want her or her son to get hurt in a crash during the high-speed chase.

Those thieves were eventually caught about 45 miles northeast of Brocket. The Millers have a picture of the brown Lincoln, and written on the back are the words “Burglary, caught in Milton, June 10, 1982.”

Unless and until Miller's detractors can come up with solid evidence that she and her octogenarian parents are telling tall tales, I think we can accept her claim that she, along with other family members, used guns to protect themselves and their property from thieves when she was growing up. Is that reason enough to vote for her? Not in my book, but I do like the fact that she's got a lifetime of experience in exercising her Second Amendment rights in addition to her statements about defending that right if she's elected governor. 

Now if we could only get the news media to start challenging the claims of candidates like Montana Democrat Ryan Busse, who swears he's not in favor of an "assault weapons" ban even though he's been paid to serve as an expert witness in defense of state-level bans and has declared that the AR-15 "ruined America". If any gubernatorial candidate in the country is crying out for a fact-check, it's Busse, but so far the Montana media has cast an uncritical eye on his candidacy and his duplicitous rhetoric about the right to keep and bear arms.