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Judge finds portions of new Montana gun law unconstitutional

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Posted at 1:06 PM, Dec 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 15:53:55-05

HELENA — A state district judge in Helena has ruled against a new state law that sought to prohibit the state Board of Regents from banning firearms on state college campuses.

Judge Michael McMahon of the First Judicial District issued an order on Tuesday, saying House Bill 102 unconstitutionally infringed on the regents’ authority to manage the Montana University System (MUS). He ordered a permanent injunction, preventing the state from enforcing the provisions of that law that applied to MUS.

HB 102, passed by the Montana Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte earlier this year, made a number of changes expanding where and how someone can carry a gun.

One of its provisions said MUS could not “regulate, restrict, or place an undue burden on the possession, transportation, or storage of firearms” by someone who had met safety and training requirements.

The Board of Regents currently has a policy that bans firearm possession on state campuses, except by trained law enforcement or security officers. Supporters of HB 102 argued that was an infringement on the right to keep and bear arms.

In his decision, McMahon said the Montana Constitution explicitly gave the Board of Regents full power to control state universities — independent from the Legislature — so the authority to determine firearms policy on campus belongs to them.

McMahon said the question of whether the regents’ gun policy violated Second Amendment rights wasn’t at issue in this case but pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court case that said it could be permissible to prohibit guns in schools and government buildings.

This decision does not affect the other provisions of HB 102.

Emilee Cantrell, press secretary for Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said the AG's office has already filed to appeal McMahon's decision.

"We disagree with the judge’s decision," she said in a statement. "State law applies on college campuses. 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.”