HELENA — Montana lawmakers overstepped their authority in passing legislation that would allow more people to carry guns on public college campuses, a state judge has ruled.
District Court Judge Michael McMahon on Tuesday granted the state Board of Regents’ request for a permanent injunction against legislation that sought to block the regents from regulating the possession or storage of firearms on campuses.
Montana’s Constitution gives the Board of Regents the authority to regulate the university system, and McMahon agreed with the board that their power includes setting campus firearms policies. He declared the part of the law dealing with the university system to be unconstitutional.
Attorney General Austin Knudsen quickly filed a notice with the Montana Supreme Court that his office intends to appeal McMahon’s ruling.
“We disagree with the judge’s decision. State law applies on college campuses,” Emilee Cantrell, a spokesperson for Knudsen, said Wednesday. “The Board of Regents does not have the power to pick and choose which state laws it will follow. Montanans do not forfeit their constitutional rights when they step foot onto a college campus.”
The Board of Regents has a policy that bans firearm possession on campuses, with exceptions for trained law enforcement and security officers, as well as policies governing the storage and access to firearms on campus.
House Bill 102, passed by the 2021 Legislature, expanded the places where guns may be carried and prohibited the university system and the regents from “infringing on constitutional rights.” Supporters said the law would increase the ability of citizens to defend themselves.
McMahon’s order notes the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that individual rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment are not unlimited. There are exceptions to the right to bear arms, including prohibitions on gun possession by convicted felons and those with mental illnesses, prohibitions on carrying guns in schools and government buildings, and laws governing the sale of firearms.
The regents filed a complaint in May arguing the part of the bill that applies to college campuses was unconstitutional. The board was granted a temporary injunction in May and Tuesday’s ruling blocked enforcement of that portion of the law.
The Board of Regents “appreciates the clarity provided by the District Court,” and “will await further review by the Montana Supreme Court,” board Chair Casey Lozar said in a statement Wednesday.
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