Campus Conceal Carry Polarizes Students at Montana State
Starting this summer, students at universities in Montana will be able to carry concealed firearms around campus. The change is polarizing students who have different visions for what makes a campus safe.
Montana State University senior Chance Kind is on his way out the door of his Bozeman apartment.
“Keys, wallet, phone. Double-checking my knife. Pens. My pencils. Got my Glock, let’s go.”
As is the case most times Kind is in public, he’s carrying a concealed Glock 19 pistol in his jeans. It’s practically muscle memory for the 22 year old to grab heading out the door. Even just to get some groceries.
But one place he can’t carry a concealed gun? His college campus. At least until June 1, when a new law requiring training, but not a permit, goes into effect at state universities.
Other changes from House Bill 102 are already in effect. Concealed firearms are now allowed with a permit in state and local government buildings, and without a permit in most other places around Montana, including bars and banks.
A third-generation Montanan from a farm and ranch area, Kind grew up around guns. After shopping for groceries, he breaks down and brushes his pistol.
“Looks like we’re actually pretty clean.”
Kind is quick to emphasize that anyone carrying a concealed weapon should be well-trained to use it. He says he’s practiced drawing his gun in front of his bathroom mirror, something he hasn’t had to do for real after carrying for two and a half years.
“And I thank God every day for that," Kind says.
Kind says his father, a former sheriff’s deputy, taught him to take care of himself and others. To be the first line of defense in case there’s an active shooter situation, for example.
“You’re the hidden protector. You’re there. You're not looking for a fight, but you're willing to finish it," he says.
As a sophomore, Kind worked with fellow members of MSU’s college Republicans group to bring their own campus concealed carry bill forward, without success. Similar proposals were vetoed or failed to pass the Legislature in previous years, but gun rights advocates now have an ally in Gov. Greg Gianforte.
During a bill signing ceremony last week, he said the so-called “constitutional carry” law bolsters self-defense rights for law-abiding citizens.
“The second amendment is very clear. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," Gianforte said.
The Montana University System and most Democratic state lawmakers opposed the bill during the legislative process, fearing it could lead to accidents and more students harming themselves on campus.
There were two completed suicides at MSU between 2017 and 2020 along with 71 known attempts, according to university data.
The new law worries MSU freshman and dorm resident Daisy Khoury, who’s otherwise loving her college experience.
"Just the thought of someone having a gun in the dining hall when I'm just trying to eat a sandwich in the morning, that’s scary if there’s a dispute," Khoury says.
She says she won’t feel safe next fall knowing students may have guns in the library or one of her philosophy classes.
“There are signs on the front door that say no nicotine, no tobacco. But you're allowing 18 year olds to have guns who are drinking on the weekends and are living with a bunch of people," she says.
Khoury says hearing about the concealed carry bill unearthed trauma from her childhood in Colorado. At age 13, she says she was playing Jenga alone with a friend when he took his own life with a handgun in front of her.
“It’s a feeling that I don’t think anybody should have to go through. I am hyper aware of my surroundings constantly. If somebody reaches into their pocket or looks suspicious in any sense I immediately go into fight or flight mode," Khoury says.
Now, Khoury says she’s considering transferring from MSU.
After the concealed carry bill was introduced, legislative attorneys questioned lawmakers’ legal authority to wade into university management.
Khoury is hopeful the Montana University System will challenge the new law in court, but Deputy Commissioner Kevin McRae thinks that’s unlikely.
He says the university system and individual colleges have been hearing from parents saying concealed carry could impact whether their kid goes to school in Montana.
“A colleague did mention to me that admissions offices are getting hammered with calls," McRae says.
Still, McRae says lawmakers made House Bill 102 more palatable to the university system by amending it to take effect on campuses later; requiring proof of training, which still needs to be hashed out; and restricting guns at events staffed by university police.
McRae says the Board of Regents will meet in May and likely implement the law with an eye toward the 10 states that currently allow students to carry guns on campus.
“But even the areas that we look to for best practices, there are different nuances that keep this sort of uncharted water and new," McRae says.
For example, McRae says Montana will be the only state to allow 18 year olds to carry guns in dorms.
Kevin Trevellyan is Yellowstone Public Radio's Report for America statehouse reporter.