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Helena considers revising gun ordinance after ballot measure limits local regulations

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Posted at 8:21 PM, Dec 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-03 13:38:27-05

HELENA — The city of Helena is looking at modifying its firearm ordinance, after Montana voters approved a measure that limits how local governments can regulate guns.

During an administrative meeting Wednesday, city attorney Thomas Jodoin told the Helena City Commission that the existing ordinance will have to be narrowed to bring it in line with Legislative Referendum 130.

“What I’m recommending, with great regret, is recommending an ordinance amending our regulations of firearms to match LR-130, so we have clear guidance for the officers in the field that have to enforce it – what exactly are the regulations that the city has,” he said.

LR-130 removed a provision in state law that gave cities and counties authority to restrict the carrying of concealed weapons. It also took away a local government’s power to restrict unconcealed firearms, except in a “publicly owned and occupied building under its jurisdiction.” Supporters argued Montana should handle gun policy at the state level, instead of cities and counties making their own rules.

Jodoin said Helena’s current rules on concealed weapons appear to be acceptable, because they have exceptions for concealed carry permit holders. However, he said the city’s rules on open carry won’t be enforceable under the new law.

The current ordinance prohibits openly carrying a loaded gun “in any place open to the public,” and carrying any unconcealed firearm or air gun in a publicly owned building, city park or school, or at a public assembly. On Monday, commissioners will consider a revised version that would only ban open carry in a “publicly owned and occupied building under the City of Helena’s jurisdiction” – a term based directly on the text of LR-130.

“That phrase is not defined; I suspect there will be much discussion about what that term means going forward,” Jodoin said.

If the commission gives initial approval to the revised language, a public hearing and final vote will be scheduled for Dec. 21.

The Montana League of Cities and Towns says about 25 local governments across Montana have firearm ordinances that will be affected by the passage of LR-130.

Jodoin said not making this change would leave uncertainty for the Helena Police Department.

“We would have an ordinance that is clearly not in compliance with LR-130,” he said. “We would have to have a separate discussion with HPD so that they clearly understand that most of the components of our current regulatory framework cannot be enforced.”

Jodoin and HPD Chief Steve Hagen said Wednesday that it has been difficult to enforce the existing rule against carrying a loaded weapon, because of the challenge of confirming the gun someone is carrying is loaded. In addition, Jodoin said HPD hasn’t been directly enforcing the firearm ordinance on the Montana State Capitol lawn – instead responding if there is a complaint from the Montana Department of Administration.