Major Expansion Of Carry Laws Moving Quickly Through MT Legislature

Lawmakers in the Montana State House are poised to pass legislation expanding the right to carry in the state to include college campuses, but not without some debate over the measure.

HB 102 sailed through the House Judiciary Committee just a few days ago, and on Wednesday the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Seth Berglee, was on the floor of the state House presenting his arguments in favor of the bill as the House prepared to cast a vote on second reading.

The most contentious moment of the debate came when Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte, asked through his face mask whether Berglee had ever suffered a gunshot wound. Berglee did not answer, and as Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, serving as House chair for the day, attempted to cut Keane off, Keane put the question to the rest of the House.

“No one raised their hand, Mr. Chairman,” Keane said. “I guess I’m the poster child.”

As Keane attempted to share a story, Skees interrupted, ruling that Keane’s testimony did not pertain to the bill. During the subsequent back-and-forth, Minority Leader Kim Abbott called on Skees to take his ruling to the House Rules Committee. When the proceedings resumed, Skees’ ruling stood, and he explained to Keane that his question had been a breach of decorum. Keane concluded his testimony opposing HB 102 by stating that he will watch for an opportunity to share his personal story during hearings on later firearms bills.

While Berglee never responded directly to the question by his Democratic colleague, in his closing argument the Republican representative did invoke his own experience as a firearms instructor, telling fellow lawmakers that he’s “well aware of what a gunshot does to somebody. That’s the reason I’m bringing this bill.”

Much of the focus of HB 102 has been on the provisions that would expand the right to carry onto college campuses, which is opposed by the state’s higher education system. The bill, however, would also remove many gun-free zones across Montana.

The measure not only allows firearms on college campuses, but also says anyone with a concealed-weapon permit can carry a weapon anywhere it’s not expressly prohibited in law – and outlined those exceptions.

The exceptions include prisons or other secure state facilities, federally owned buildings, military bases, courtrooms and schools, as determined by the local school board.

Private property owners and businesses also can ban firearms on their property.

Opponents of the bill claim that it would make college campuses less safe, though there’s absolutely no evidence to back up their assertions. In recent years several states, including Texas, have adopted campus carry legislation, and the biggest issue has come from a few anti-gun professors who decide they would rather teach elsewhere.

Concealed carry holders deciding to commit violent crimes on campus, on the other hand, haven’t been an issue at all. As it turns out, concealed carry licensees are just as law-abiding when they’re on a college campus as they are when they’re in a restaurant or grocery store.

The carry measure had no problem passing second reading, with the final tally 67-33 in favor of the bill. The House is scheduled to officially approve the bill today and send it over to the state Senate, where hopefully lawmakers will be just as eager to get the bill to Gov. Greg Gianforte as soon as possible.