Gun Bill Easily Clears Montana Senate

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A bill that aims to clarify and expand gun rights easily cleared the Montana Senate on Tuesday, and getting very close to clearing the Legislature.

The measure came to the full Senate floor with significant changes from the version that came from the House. Supporters hashed out a deal with police and prosecutors over the past couple of weeks.

The version the Senate Judiciary Committee sent to the floor, where it was endorsed 40-10, stripped out a provision that would let anyone legally allowed to have a gun carry it in town without a concealed weapon permit.

The measure still clarifies that people don’t have an obligation to first run away before using a gun in self defense. And it still says people who use self defense should not be presumed guilty by police, and that landlords can’t limit the gun rights of tenants.

The National Rifle Association and Montana Shooting Sports Association have made the bill a priority.

Supporters said the extremes of the bill were tempered in order to gain support for passage.

“This has been a seriously contentious bill,” said Sen. Gary Perry, R-Manhattan. “We have gone from far extremes to a position where we have a lot of support and it will take a lot of support to pass this Legislature.”

Supporters said the bill is needed to make sure that laws match the preconceived notions Montanans have about their right to defend themselves and their home.

“This is a very important notion. People have a right to defend themselves,” said Sen. Dan McGee, R-Billings. “All this bill is trying to do is to make sure your rights aren’t put in jeopardy because the codes are unclear.”

Opponents, slimmed down ever since police and prosecutor complaints were dealt with in committee negotiations, said they still worry the bill could cause problems.

They argued the increased right to show a weapon in order to defuse a threat could be misused, as could the right to claim self defense after shooting someone.

“I could blow them away and I could probably convince somebody that I was threatened,” said Sen. Carol Juneau, D-Browning. “It’s not going to help Montana be safer.”

The measure faces one more procedural vote in the Senate. A conference committee will then hash out differences between the House and Senate versions.