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Ballot Initiative Would Bar Local Government From Enacting Gun Restrictions

Hand gun.
Hand gun.

Gun regulation can cause heated arguments across the nation and especially in Montana, whereover half of the citizenryowns a registered firearm. This election Montana voters will decide whether to restrict local governments’ ability to enact their own gun control measures.

If LR-130 gets enough yes votes, it will remove local governments’ authority to regulate concealed carry firearms. It also removes local authority to prevent convicted felons, people with mental illness, undocumented immigrants and minors from possessing guns.

State Representative Matt Regier, a Republican from Kalispell up for reelection this year, sponsored legislation to get LR-130 on the ballot.

"The whole premise of LR-130 is that concealed carry permit holders, Second Amendment rights people, we want to follow the law. And we need to keep it uniform without a whole kaleidoscope of different definitions across the state," Regier said.

Regier sponsored a similar billlast session that Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed. Bullock said the bill would have ended local decision making about whether felons and people with mental illness can carry weapons in public, which Bullock called a “dramatic departure” from Montana history.

The referendum before voters now is largely in response to Missoula’s 2016 city ordinance, which required background checks for the sale of all firearms and put restrictions on where people could have a concealed carry firearm.

Attorney General Tim Fox, who drafted the ballot measure, put out a legal opinion in 2017 stating the ordinance was unconstitutional. When the City of Missoula sued to appeal the decision, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in 2019 the ordinance was not enforceable.

Tim Burton with the Montana League of Cities and Towns opposes the proposed referendum.

"In Montana we trust local citizens to decide how to keep our communities safe. You know that’s been the law for over 130 years in Montana and LR-130 would take this freedom away. Why change something that is working," Burton said.

The Montana League of Cities and Towns, the Montana School Boards Association and several other organizations opposed the wording of the referendum, say the language made its effect unclear. The Montana Supreme Court dismissed their challenge.

Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association, says he worries LR-130 will restrict school’s ability to ban firearms on school campuses.

"One size fits all approach doesn’t really work. And we don’t see any room for having the same standard applied across the state of Montana when the tradition over the past several decades has been that the community school boards made those decisions as they relate to the schools that they supervise and control," Melton said.

Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, supports the passage of LR-130. He says the argument that the referendum would allow guns in schools is inaccurate.

"That understanding of what LR-130 does is false. There is separate law in Montana which makes it a crime to take a gun into a school building unless with the permission of the school board, for example hunter education classes, and that law is unaffected by LR-130," Marbut said.

Marbut says varying concealed carry ordinances causes confusion for permit holders who want to follow the law.

"There’s been a problem across Montana with local governments wanting to impose a patchwork of local gun control. And that clearly is in violation with the spirit and the letter of the Montana constitution," Marbut said.

Anthony Johnstone, a professor at Blewett School of Law in Missoula says, if passed, the impacts of LR-130 would not be clear until brought before a court.

"Local governments could no longer regulate permitted concealed carry even in publicly owned and occupied buildings and the legislature is also proposing to remove local government authority over firearms in parks or schools," Johnstone said.

Johnstone says people with concealed carry permits could argue in court, using LR-130, that they are allowed to have concealed firearms in courthouses or schools.

"If this passes, this would empower concealed carry permitees to argue that they have a right to concealed carry everywhere, notwithstanding what a local government authority would say. And those local government authorities may or may not include school districts, we’ll have to wait and see," Johnstone said.

Other than Missoula, 17 municipalitieshave local ordinances prohibiting concealed and unconcealed firearms at public assemblies and within parks or cemeteries.

According to Giffords Law Center, a national group that advocates to prevent gun violence, 43 states have statutes limiting local government’s authority to regulate firearms and ammunition.

A vote yes for LR-130 would be in favor of removing local regulations and preventing further local gun restriction ordinances.