Guns Bills Heard on Universities, Concealed Carry

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Montana lawmakers behind two pro-gun measures said Monday that restrictions on carrying concealed weapons in cities and on university campuses violate Second Amendment rights.

House Bill 240 would curb the Montana Board of Regents’ authority to restrict firearms on college campuses.

It followed two other pro-gun measures on Monday including House Bill 304, which would allow people to carry concealed firearms without a permit in cities.

All three measures are expected to pass the Republican-controlled Senate.

Supporters of House Bill 240, including several university students, cited safety concerns in their support of the bill and called for an end to what they characterized as the board of regents’ overreaching authority in regards to gun control.

“Every time we have had one of these tragedies, the shooting stops… when a good guy shows up with a gun,” Representative Cary Smith told the Senate Education and Cultural Resources Committee.

But opponents argued college students tend to be in a more transformative and stressful stage of life — and that adding guns to the mix would create a more violent environment.

The measure also raises separation-of-powers issues, as Montana’s constitution gives university regents sole jurisdiction to manage and regulate college campuses.

Montana Associate Commissioner of Higher Education Kevin McRae called the bill a “double standard,” saying it would allow guns on a campus but not in other public buildings, leaving students vulnerable to more violent incidences.

On the concealed carry bill, Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-of Laurel, called his “permit-less conceal carry” proposal, House Bill 304, a logical addition to state law that gives city dwellers the same privileges as rural residents, who already can carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

“Right now I can walk down Main Street Laurel and I can carry a gun in my hand. I can carry it in my briefcase. I can carry it in my holster,” Kerns told the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday. “The only thing I can’t do is put my coat over my holster when I am walking downtown.”

Montana Sheriff’s and Peace Officers Association President Jim Smith questioned what Kerns called logical. House Bill 304 isn’t a simple “dress-code bill,” but one that would erode the integrity of the existing concealed-carry permit process, Smith said.

The measure would allow people to carry a concealed weapon on the grounds that they feel they are responsible enough to do so — but without the sheriff’s knowledge or approval, he said.

Kerns also sponsored House Bill 459 that would prohibit medical providers from refusing to treat patients based on answers to questions about gun ownership.

The measure would still allow doctors to ask if a patient has firearms, Kerns said.

He believes federal government officials plan to use the answers to those questions to compile a list of gun owners that will be used against them to confiscate their weapons.

Kerns offered no substantive evidence to back those claims.

The three gun bills debated Monday are among a slate of controversial gun bills that have emerged at the national and state levels in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The three measures have received House approval and need committee endorsements before moving to the Senate floor.

The committees did not take immediate action on the bills.