HELENA – The number of gun rights bills likely to clear the Montana Legislature appears to be dwindling significantly, as the session enters its final days, dealing a blow to gun-rights advocates who seem unable to capitalize on having a Republican majority.
With the GOP holding one of the largest legislative majorities in years, this session presented a key opening for conservative lawmakers that often favor more lenient gun measures.
But the gun-rights supporters seem to be unable to seize the moment. Most of the measures have been stopped.
The representative that carried a large number of the gun bills before the Legislature, Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, described the session as a failure for the cause, now that most of the measures are likely dead.
Bills allowing hunters to use silencers, permitting concealed weapons in bars and banks, and measures to prohibit federal firearm law enforcement all have stalled.
Another measure to allow guns in the Capitol has been stripped down from its original intent of allowing lawmakers to have weapons. The bill now would allow only security personnel to carry weapons.
However, one of the principle measures for gun-rights advocates appears to be set to pass.
Lawmakers have shown support for House Bill 271, carried by Kerns, to allow people to carry a concealed weapon without applying for a permit.
The bill would allow Montanans who complete a firearms training course to carry a concealed gun without obtaining an official license.
Kerns described the measure as a “great assertion” for constitutional gun rights, allowing more people to protect themselves with a weapon.
Opponents said the measure makes it difficult for law enforcement to determine who can legally carry a weapon, possibly endangering law enforcement officers and the public.
Legislators hashed out differences on the measure Thursday and the bill will likely be approved and go to Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer for his signature or veto.
Gun-rights bills often have bipartisan backing from lawmakers who say guns are an important part of Montana life. However, such proposals organized by the conservative gun-rights lawmakers and lobbyists went too far for many legislators.
Supporters said the measures are important to defend the right to bear arms and let Montanans protect themselves. Opponents of the proposals said the bills go beyond protected gun rights and put the public at risk by allowing weapons where they do not belong.
The measures were stopped because of how one or two votes panned out in committee, Kerns said.
“The wrong people in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he said.
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