Gun-Rights Bills Face Tough Road in Senate

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Having already cleared the state House, a handful of gun-rights bills that have drawn opposition from many Democrats and some Republicans has moved to the Senate, where they may face a tougher challenge.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard three measures Wednesday from Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel. The bills propose letting people carry a concealed weapon without a permit in cities and in prohibited places like banks and bars, and permitting the use of a silencer when hunting.

Supporters say the measures are important to defend the right to bear arms and let Montanans protect themselves. Opponents of the proposals say the bills go beyond protected gun rights and put the public at risk by allowing weapons where they do not belong.

Many gun measures typically have a favorable reception from both sides of the aisle from lawmakers who say guns have an important role in Montana life.

However, Kerns’ more permissive gun rights proposals have drawn criticism from many Democrats who say the measures jeopardize the safety of law enforcement and the public.

The concealed carry and prohibited places measures narrowly made it through the Republican-dominated House last month with a number or Republican’s voting in opposition. The GOP’s majority is slimmer in the Senate and in the judiciary committee Republican’s edge on Democrats is a single vote.

Wednesday, several legislators questioned whether the bills were too expansive and if they were supported by the public.

Kerns and supporters of his bills argued gun rights bills let good citizens protect themselves from bad people. Supporters said allowing Montanans to carry concealed gun without a permit or carry into banks, bars or government buildings reduces the times where criminals can prey on law abiding citizens.

“The self-evident truth is criminals don’t obey the law,” Kerns said.

Jim Smith of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association rejected the clear cut description of people as either good or bad.

“Given who we are and what’s at our core as human beings, sometimes good people do bad things, sometimes well-intentioned people make mistakes,” Smith said.

Other people opposing the measure agreed, saying Montana does not have a problem of violence between strangers and the bills would dangerously put more guns into the public.

The bill to allow silencers when hunting drew the least amount of criticism in the House and at Wednesday’s hearing. Currently Montanans are allowed to own a silencer, but not use them. Supporters said the measure will protect hunters hearing, but not disguise the guns report altogether.

Opponents to the measure said the bill will make it more difficult for private property owners to know if hunters or poachers are using their land.