Compromise Reached on Bill to Expand Gun Rights

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Legislators hashing out differences on a measure to expand gun rights reached a quick compromise on Tuesday.

The House-Senate conference committee largely accepted the version that cleared the Senate — which had the blessing of police and prosecutors — and prepped the bill for what appears will be easy final passage.

That Senate version 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 that 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 and support the revised version. They say the measure is needed to clarify what many gun owners consider gray areas in case law.

The lone change by the conference committee strips out language banning weapons in hospitals. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns of Laurel, argued that adding a new place where holders of a concealed-weapons permit cannot take guns violates the spirit of a bill intended to expand gun rights.

“It was a step backward,” Kerns said in an interview.

Kerns said the bill stands to achieve 90 percent of what he sought, after the Senate took out the provision allowing most anyone to carry a concealed weapon in town without a permit. Currently it is legal to do so outside of town limits.

Kerns said he will bring legislation in 2011 to tackle the issue.

Opposition by police and prosecutors largely involved the bill’s original language that they said would let people brandish weapons with impunity.

Attorney General Steve Bullock said he supports the current version of the legislation.

“Through a lot of hard work and compromise, we have a bill that affirms the individual right to keep and bear arms, and protects the men and women serving in law enforcement,” Bullock said in a statement. “Since this measure does both, I hope the House and Senate support it and it becomes law.”

The full Senate and House will need to sign off on the conference committee compromise before the measure is sent to the governor.

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