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Lawmakers could carry concealed handguns under bill moving through Legislature

Lawmakers could carry concealed handguns under bill moving through Legislature


A state legislator wants his colleagues and some legislative staff to be able to carry concealed handguns in the Capitol and on other state property.

Sen. Roger Webb, a Republican from Billings, is carrying Senate Bill 304. It’s already passed the Senate on a 30-20 party-line vote.

In a hearing on the bill Wednesday in the House Judiciary Committee, Webb said legislators are “soft targets" and should be able to defend themselves with concealed firearms. His bill would also let the House and Senate sergeant-at-arms and some of their staff carry concealed handguns.

“Society has changed, and not necessarily for the better,” Webb said in outlining the reason he thinks his bill is necessary.

Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a similar bill last session, saying security at the Capitol was sufficient. In 2011 the Legislature started contracting with the Helena Police Department to provide additional security.

Bullock also wrote in 2017 that giving legislators the ability to carry firearms, not because they have training but simply because they were elected to public office, is "illogical and unreasonable."

No one spoke in support of Webb’s bill Wednesday, but there were several opponents.

Paulette Kohman, of Helena, said legislators already had the ability to protect themselves in the Capitol by passing laws and funding additional security. She questioned whether lawmakers without law enforcement training would be able to respond in an active shooter situation.

“Are you really ready to be a one-person SWAT team?” Kohman asked.

Eric Feaver, president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, said his union’s members opposed the bill, which he called “sad.”

“If (the Capitol is) an unsafe place for you, then it must be an unsafe place for lobbyists. Your hubris is overwhelming. You should be embarrassed by that,” Feaver said.

Another bill related to concealed-carry has also passed the Legislature, though it could be vetoed by Bullock.

House Bill 325, from Rep. Matt Regier, a Republican from Columbia Falls, would prohibit local governments from regulating the carrying of concealed weapons and making other local related laws.

Regier said in the Senate Judiciary committee in March that communities like Missoula have enacted their own laws, which he said create confusion from community to community.

In 2016 the city of Missoula passed an ordinance that requires background checks on all gun sales in the city. It never took effect, however, after an order by Attorney General Tim Fox. A Missoula County judge later overturned Fox's decision, though an appeal of that ruling is heading to the state Supreme Court.

"We'd have multiple municipalities setting up a plethora of laws," Regier told the committee. "It restricts government from creating a disarray of conceal-carry laws and government encroaching on free Montanans' … rights.”

Julie Merritt, who is on the Missoula City Council, said in a hearing on the bill she had been in meetings in Hamilton dealing with water rights that illustrated why she thoughts guns shouldn't be around when tempers flare.

"As you all know, whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting in Montana, and (it's) best not to have firearms in those meetings," Merritt said.

Merritt also ran down a list of local firearms laws, saying they're already present across the state, not just Missoula, and that local governments knew how to best craft bills to meet the needs of locals.

"Cities and towns from Libby to Baker have similar laws on the books to prohibit firearms in public places," Merritt said.

The group Moms Demand Action, formed in response to school shootings, also opposed Regier's bill, as well as Webb's.

In anticipation of a veto by Bullock, a second bill from Regier would attempt to do the same thing by putting it to voters as a referendum in 2020. That's House Bill 357 and it has passed the House and Senate. Bullock cannot veto a referendum.

So far this session Bullock has signed a bill stipulating that a person with a concealed firearms permit does not have to notify local law enforcement when they move to another city or county.

A bill was sent to his desk last month that would remove the requirement to provide a Social Security number on a concealed carry permit application. The governor has not yet acted on it.

Also still in play this session is a bill that would create a school marshal program, which would allow school boards to appoint an independent contractor or district employee as a marshal who can carry a weapon on school grounds. Montana law already allows school boards to permit people to have, carry or store weapons on school property, but very few schools have chosen to do that.

A handful of other bills related to firearms have been defeated this session, including legislation that would have:

  • made it illegal to not properly secure a firearm.
  • provided a tax credit for the purchase of a gun safe.
  • established protections for having and buying a gun for people who use medical marijuana.
  • provided suicide prevention materials in hunter safety courses (failed to meet a bill transmittal deadline).
  • allowed a judge, when issuing a temporary restraining order in the case of domestic violence, also to order a person not to possess or use a firearm.
  • created a red-flag law where family or law enforcement could petition a court to seek a yearlong "extreme risk protection order" that would remove a gun from a person or stop them from purchasing a weapon if a court found that person was in crisis and posing a danger to themselves or others.
  • tried to close loopholes in background check laws.

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