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District Court Judge Extends Order Blocking Montana Campus Concealed Carry Law

David Dewhirst sits, wearing a mask, before a microphone.
Kevin Trevellyan
/
Yellowstone Public Radio
David Dewhirst, solicitor general for the Montana attorney general, listens to the Montana University System's case for continuing to block a new law allowing the concealed carry of firearms on public college campuses. Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Mike McMahon considered arguments on June 7, 2021.

A district court judge has extended an order blocking a new Montana law allowing the concealed carry of firearms on public college campuses while he determines its constitutionality. The order came hours after lawyers for the attorney general’s office and Montana University System made their cases for and against the law.

Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Mike McMahon wrote in a Monday order that it appears the new law interferes with the Board of Regents’ authority to control the university system, including its gun policies.

McMahon’s preliminary injunction extends an earlier restraining order he placed on the concealed carry law, which was set to take effect on campuses June 1. The university system can now continue prohibiting guns on campus while the case continues.

Attorney Martha Sheehy urged the court to continue blocking the law on behalf of the Board of Regents, saying it violates the state constitution’s separation of powers between the university system and Montana Legislature.

Martha Sheehy speaks into a microphone.
Kevin Trevellyan
Attorney Martha Sheehy presents the Montana University System's case for continuing to block a new law allowing the concealed carry of firearms on public college campuses. Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Mike McMahon considered arguments on June 7, 2021.

“Such an order will preserve the status quo and allow the parties to reach the merits of this case in due course,” Sheehy said.

Sheehy said the Board of Regents received an unprecedented amount of public comment about the concealed carry law, including from Montanans concerned it would turn away prospective students and increase suicide risk.

David Dewhirst defended the law for the state attorney general’s office, saying the university system’s arguments are speculative.

He acknowledged the Board of Regents’ power to manage campuses, but said there’s court-backed precedent that regents are also subject to public policy of the state.

“And this case is a good reminder: we should diligently avoid the temptation to use the courts as some sort of superveto on enacted legislation that we disagree with,” Dewhirst said.

Dewhirst said blocking the concealed carry law harms Montanans’ Second Amendment self-defense rights.

The Gallatin County District Court is considering another challenge to the law filed by the Montana Federation of Public Employees and others.

Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio’s Report for America statehouse reporter.