HELENA — A judge temporarily blocked on Friday a new law allowing firearms to be carried on public university campuses in Montana.
The law passed earlier this year would have gone into effect June 1. The temporary order issued by Judge Mike McMahon of the Lewis and Clark County District Court sets a June 7 hearing in the case.
The Montana University Board of Regents, which oversees Montana’s university system, filed a challenge in the district court seeking to block the new law on Thursday.
The university system’s existing policy prohibits anyone other than law enforcement or contracted security staff from carrying firearms on campus.
McMahon said the board stood to “suffer immediate and irreparable injury” if it were not permitted to have a hearing on the matter before the law went into effect.
Higher Education Commissioner Clayton Christian notified university and community college presidents of the ruling and said existing policies should continue to be followed.
That means no open carry or concealed carry of firearms on campus pending the hearing, which will decide if Friday’s temporary order should be extended, said Helen Thigpen, the university system’s government relations director.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Seth Berglee, lamented the regents’ decision to sue after Berglee and other lawmakers worked with university officials during the legislative session to make the bill more palatable to university staff, including by delaying the implementation date of the bill to June.
“I think it’s a reach for the regents to claim that their constitutional authority to manage the university system extends above the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Berglee said.
The Board of Regents voted unanimously earlier this month to file a lawsuit seeking to block the measure after hearing public testimony overwhelmingly opposed to the measure. Opponents raised concern the law overstepped the regents’ authority to manage public university campuses as declared in the Montana Constitution.
Supporters of the new law questioned whether the Board of Regents could infringe upon rights to bear arms that are included in the state and federal constitutions.
Montana’s Constitution states that the regents have the full power, responsibility and authority to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the Montana university system.
The Montana Supreme Court dismissed two challenges of the law earlier this week, saying they lacked the urgency needed to reach the state’s high court. The lawsuits were brought by the Board of Regents and a coalition of former regents, faculty and student groups.
The Supreme Court said the lawsuits could be filed in District Court.
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