GREAT FALLS — Permitless concealed carry of firearms - also known as constitutional carry - is now legal in Montana, following Governor Greg Gianforte signing House Bill 102 into law last week. The new law allows people to carry concealed firearms without a permit in most locations, and with a permit in state and local government facilities such as the State Capitol Building. But what does that mean for the state’s schools? Schools in the Montana University System face a much different future than public K-12 schools.
HB102 allows for the permit-less concealed carry of firearms in the state, with some exceptions. The exact text of the bill is important, especially when it comes to schools. While most of the bill went into effect immediately when it was signed last week, Section 6 will not go into effect until June 1, 2021. To understand why that’s important, you have to understand what Section 6 does.
Section 6 determines what regulations a Board of Regents at a University System can place on firearms on their property. The state claims in the text of the bill that the Montana University System was created and is controlled by the Montana Constitution, and therefore the land and buildings occupied by the university system are public property, not private property. That means that government regulations will take precedent over university system regulations.
Kevin McRae, the Montana University System Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education, says the Board knew about the provision, and is familiar with this issue. “It is still of concern to us, and the Board of Regents,” he said. “When the board meets in May, (we) will most likely then give our best effort to reviewing and updating our campus firearms policy.”
That’s why the June effective date for Section 6 is important, because it provides guidelines for the MUS Board to update their firearms policies before the guidelines become official.
The system’s board of regents will meet in May to update those policies, but according to the text of the bill, they can only regulate the following actions:
- the discharge of a firearm on or within university system property unless the discharge is done in self-defense;
- the removal of a firearm from a gun case or holster unless the removal is done in self-defense or within the domicile on campus of the lawful possessor of the firearm
- the pointing of a firearm at another person unless the lawful possessor is acting in self-defense
- the carrying of a firearm outside of a domicile on campus unless the firearm is within a case or holster
- the failure to secure a firearm with a locking device whenever the firearm is not in the possession of or under the immediate control of the lawful possessor of the firearm
- the possession or storage of a firearm in an on-campus dormitory or housing unit without the express permission of any roommate of the lawful possessor of the firearm
- the possession or storage of a firearm by any individual who has a history of adjudicated university system discipline arising out of the individual's interpersonal violence or substance abuse
- the possession of a firearm at an event on campus where campus authorities have authorized alcohol to be served and consumed
- the possession of a firearm at an athletic or entertainment event open to the public with controlled access and armed security on site.
“It is our job, serving the constituents of all of the above, to make sure that our students have a respectful and safe environment on campus,” McRae explained. “So, as we balance those two huge interests, that are not necessarily competing interests, we’re going to be doing our best work to look at how other states are making firearms carry work on campuses and the Board of Regents will have some significant discussion and decisions to make in May.”
Then there is also some concern from public school boards about some of the wording in Section 4 of the bill. That section gives public school boards the ability to determine which “school buildings” are an exception to the concealed carry law. According to Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore, that is wording that the Montana School Board Association and other organizations want cleared up.
“What the School Administrators Association of Montana have been advocating for is that there is clarity about what constitutes a school building, (and) school property,” explained Moore. “So, Memorial Stadium, for example, is school district property. You can’t carry a weapon in a school building, but you can carry a weapon in memorial stadium? That doesn’t make sense.”
It’s also important to note that the Montana University System has never banned firearms from their campuses. But they previously only allowed police and other security officers to carry concealed weapons. Now, McRae says they face the task of updating their policies while balancing the regulations that House Bill 102 allows them to put in place with their goals for maintaining the safety of their staff and students on campus.