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GOP lawmakers advance more bills allowing guns in public buildings

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Posted at 5:45 PM, Feb 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-25 11:41:18-05

HELENA — Republican lawmakers advanced two additional bills Wednesday to further allow the carrying of firearms in public buildings and spaces in Montana – including one letting legislators carry guns without a concealed-weapon permit.

The state Senate, on a 27-to-23 vote, endorsed a measure saying state legislators can carry a “lawfully possessed or concealed handgun” on any state property open to the public – except a state prison.

Meanwhile, the Montana House voted 65-to-34 for a separate measure that forbids local governments from banning the carrying of firearms in any publicly owned building under their jurisdiction.

Both measures face a final vote before they would advance to the next house. All legislative Democrats, and a few Republicans, voted against the bills Wednesday.

The two bills come on the heels of a sweeping gun-rights law signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte last week.

The new law signed by the governor prohibits the Montana university system from banning firearms on its college campuses and says citizens can carry concealed weapons, with a permit, in most public buildings in the state – but not in a courtroom or courthouse.

House Bill 436 – the measure endorsed Wednesday – would override that exception, and forbid local governments from banning weapons in courthouses.

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Rep. Scot Kerns, R-Great Falls.

Rep. Scot Kerns, R-Great Falls, the sponsor of the bill, said it “clears up an inconsistency” in gun laws and “gives law-abiding citizens more options on how to practice their 2nd Amendment rights.”

But Rep. Connie Keogh, D-Missoula, said the landmark law signed last week specifically allowed local governments to forbid weapons in courthouses.

“Our local city halls and courthouses are not a place for openly carrying or concealing a firearm,” she said. “Local public employees routinely deal with matters that involve high levels of emotion and angst and need protection from reprisals and attack.”

Only one House Republican – Rep. Wendy McKamey of Great Falls – voted against the measure.

Another Great Falls Republican – Rep. Jeremy Trebas – said during debate that he supports the measure because he’d like to be able to carry a gun at the county fairgrounds.

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Rep. Jeremy Trebas, R-Great Falls.

“Now, I’m a taxpayer, I pay for (those grounds),” he said. “When I go there, there’s often events that have a lot of people. I don’t know everybody that’s there. I’d rather be able to legally carry a weapon to protect myself and my family.”

Under the law signed last week, legislators with a concealed-weapon permit can now carry a gun in the state Capitol.

Senate Bill 158, endorsed Wednesday, would allow lawmakers to carry a gun in the Capitol or any public building without a permit.

Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, the sponsor of the bill, said lawmakers sometimes receive threats and should be deemed responsible enough to carry a weapon because they’re “vetted” by the voters and the public.

But Sen. John Esp of Big Timber, one of four Republicans who opposed the bill, questioned whether every lawmaker would be trained or qualified enough to safely start shooting in a crowded building.

“I was vetted by the voters, but I don’t think they vetted me on my ability to shoot, or my ability to make good judgment amongst a group of people with a shooter up there (in the gallery),” he said.