Bill Offering Leniency for Guns at School Stopped

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A House committee stopped a bill Friday to make allowances for bringing guns on school grounds, as concerns over guns at schools trumped worries that students were being treated too harshly for leaving hunting rifles in their cars.

House Bill 558, which was tabled in committee, would have no longer made it a requirement to expel a student who brings a gun to school and proposed that guns locked in a vehicle on school grounds do not qualify as a violation.

Republican Rep. Jerry O’Neil of Columbia Falls who sponsored the bill said the measure was about fixing broken Montana gun laws.

The bill follows outcry over the suspension of Demari DeReu a Columbia Falls High School student, after she brought an unloaded rifle to school in the trunk of her car in December. Some people at the time argued that giving leeway for guns on school grounds makes sense for many Montanans’ outdoor lifestyles. Those in opposition say there are some places where guns just don’t belong, especially schools.

Speaking Friday, DeReu asked legislators to change the school policy so students wouldn’t be subject to the same difficulties from school hearings and suspensions that she endured. The cheerleader said she is still taunted to this day over the incident.

“I would not want anyone ever to go through what I have to go through,” DeReu said.

Other supporters of the legislation said the current system doesn’t allow enough discretion for school boards to decide how to punish students and the expulsion is an unfair mark on the student’s permanent record.

Those opposing the measure said the school already has enough control to offer students leniency. They also argued the measure may violate federal law.

“I fear that if this bill passes all of our school districts and our state will jeopardize receiving federal funds,” said Debra Silk of the Montana School Board Association.

Other opponents said guns don’t belong in some urban environments and the loosened regulations could be abused by gang members.

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