Compromise Being Worked Out on Montana Gun Bill

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A compromise on a bill aimed at expanding gun rights and getting rid of the need for concealed weapons permits is advancing in the state Senate.

House Bill 228 has been the subject of a tough fight between police groups and gun groups such as the National Rifle Association. But the interest groups sat down again with lawmakers Friday morning to hammer out some details the legislation.

The compromise still allows people to use a gun in self-defense without first fleeing. Sen. Dan McGee, the Billings Republican leading a legislative subcommittee making the changes, said that is means people can more easily use deadly force on home intruders.

“You can say, ‘that’s it, you’re terminated.’ Boom!” McGee told the full Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday in presenting the compromise bill.

Prosecutors worry such a provision would let people gun down someone for simply being drunk and disorderly.

The full panel is scheduled to vote on it Monday, where it is expected to be approved with perhaps a few more changes before getting a full Senate vote on Tuesday or Wednesday. It has already cleared the House, but that chamber will have to review any changes made in the Senate.

The Senate compromise version would still exempt people from the requirement of a permit for carrying a concealed weapon in town — although it now clarifies that felons could not do so. It would also keep the current permitting system in place for those who voluntarily want one in order to carry a gun in other states that recognize Montana’s permits.

A provision that would allow people to brandish a gun if they feel threatened is being modified at the request of police, who say it would be dangerous to have citizens try to defuse conflicts by pointing guns at each other.

The university system has resisted the bill, saying it interferes with their restrictions about guns on campuses.

McGee said the bill does not prevent the Board of Regents, given constitutional authority over the college system, from setting its own rules — as long as they don’t impede on gun rights.

“But they have to do it in a constitutionally acceptable manner or they will be challenged and they will lose,” he said.

The Montana Shooting Sports Association, integral in drafting the legislation, said it will be supporting the bill and indicated the National Rifle Association would as well.

And police groups said they would likely drop their opposition to the measure.

But prosecutors still have concerns.

The Montana attorney general’s office said it worries about potential misuse of the “brandishing” provision. And it told lawmakers that it prefers the current conceal carry permit law.

“The right to conceal carry is not a constitutional right, it’s a right granted by the Legislature,” said Ali Bovingdon, assistant attorney general.

The NRA has put a big push on the bill, and has said it will be a crucial part of the scorecard very important to elected officials in Montana.

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