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Montana House Passes Bill To Expand Concealed Firearms Carry

Rep. Frank Garner stands, speaking into a microphone as he addresses Rep. Seth Berglee. Other lawmakers, some masked and some not, sit along the curved bench desks in the Montana Capitol.
Austin Amestory
UM Legislative News Service
Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell (left), questions Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet (right), on House Bill 102 during a debate in the Montana House of Representatives Wednesday. The bill, which Berglee sponsored, would allow for the permitless carry of concealed weapons most places across the state, including on college campuses and inside banks. It passed a preliminary vote in the House along party lines, with 67 Republicans voting in favor and 33 Democrats against.

A controversial bill that expands where concealed weapons are allowed passed the Montana House of Representatives Thursday. Legislators voted along party lines, with 66 Republicans voting for the bill and 31 Democrats voting against it. Three lawmakers did not vote.

House Bill 102 allows Montanans to carry a concealed firearm without a permit anywhere they would normally be allowed to open carry, including inside banks.

During a tense debate in the House Wednesday, the bill’s sponsor, Representative Seth Berglee, a Republican from Joliet, said having a firearm in a bank would not be a problem.

“I didn’t feel that banks in this current day and age are a target for robberies,” Berglee said.

Data from the FBI shows that just less than 4% of banks -- 3,033 banks -- were robbed in 2018, according to the most recent count.

Under the bill, permit holders would also be able to have a concealed weapon inside state government buildings, including the Montana Capitol.

Berglee said the reason for the bill was clear.

“It’s to enhance the safety of people by expanding their legal ability to provide for their own defense by reducing or eliminating government mandated places where only criminals are armed,” Berglee said during Wednesday’s debate.

Representative Kathy Kelker, D-Billings, disputed that argument.

“There is simply no reason to invite more guns into public places,” Kelker said. “We need to get out of the way and let our law enforcement officers do their jobs and guarantee all Montanans the right to a safe workplace.”

The bill would also eliminate the Board of Regents’ ability to create gun-free zones on Montana university campuses. Colleges would still be able to set rules about student firearm conduct, and would also be able to ban firearms at events serving alcohol.

Berglee also said during committee meetings and the House debate that the bill would promote safety. He said the average police response time is 11 minutes, while the average mass shooting lasts nine. He did not give sources for this information. His implication is one echoed by many of the bill’s proponents: that an armed citizen could stop an active shooter long before police arrived.

Rep. Frank Garner, R-Kalispell, said the bill could only aid law enforcement.

“This bill, to me, is not about those times when police officers are there,” Garner said. “It’s about when they’re not.”

Opponents say the bill will do exactly the opposite. Democratic lawmakers raised concerns over suicide rates increasing with easier access to firearms. They also raised the specter of increased accidental shootings.

Rep. Jim Keane, D-Butte, said with the passage of House Bill 102, legislators would have blood on their hands.

“In this bill, while it says ‘safety,’ people will die,” Keane said. “When the bullet comes out of the barrel of that gun and strikes a person in the flesh and bone, there are two places he’s going to go: the morgue, or the hospital.”

The bill now moves to the Senate.

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.