Governor vetoes bills related to concealed weapons, guns on federal property

February 24, 2017 GMT

HELENA — Montana’s governor on Thursday vetoed two gun bills -- one to let people carry concealed weapons without a permit and another to allow weapons on federal property.

While saying he will “fiercely defend the Second Amendment rights of our citizens,” Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock wrote in his veto: “I cannot support an absurd concept that threatens the safety of our communities by not providing for the basic fundamentals of guns safety or mental health screening.”

The bills were House Bill 262, carried by Rep. Bill Harris, R-Winnett, and House Bill 246, carried by Rep. Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell. HB262 passed the House on a 60-39 vote and the Senate on a 31-18 vote, and HB246 passed the House by the same margin and the Senate 32-17.

Harris’ bill would have allowed for concealed carry without a permit in cities and towns. It has been legal to carry a concealed weapon without a permit outside those areas in Montana for more than 25 years. At a bill hearing in January, Harris said the bill makes laws uniform and is “vital” to safety.

Bullock vetoed similar bills in 2013 and 2015. In Montana, sheriffs grant concealed weapons permits and may require basic firearms training or deny permits to those with mental illness. Denials are uncommon, Bullock said. Law enforcement from around the state was among the opposition to the bill.

Bullock wrote in his veto that if the same logic were applied to other situations, “there would be no need for a person to be licensed before driving on our highways,” and he said the same goes for pilot licenses, building permits, hunting licenses and all other permits.

Harris on Thursday said he was “very disappointed” in the governor’s veto and he doesn’t believe Bullock understands “the reality of the dangers Montanans face.”

“Many of the people of Montana are pro-Second Amendment,” Harris said. “They know that self defense is an important part of their life.”

Harris referenced the state’s rural nature and said law enforcement presence can be sparse in some regions. He also said the 600-plus mile border with Canada can pose a risk.

“Montana citizens are his own personal line of defense,” he said.

In his veto of Brodehl’s bill, Bullock said his primary objection is that it violates the U.S. Constitution.

“We would not propose to tell the United States Air Force how to run Malstrom Air Force Base, or for that matter a private store owners who posts a ‘No firearms allowed’ in their storefront, and the same logic applies here,” Bullock wrote.

“Law enforcement takes an oath to uphold all federal, state and local laws, and HB 246 would put them in the impossible position of violating state law to enforce federal law, or vice versa,” the governor wrote.

Brodehl said the bill would have let people carry permitted guns when they go to the post office to get their mail. Many Montanans keep guns in their vehicles, he said, and that presents a problem when on post office property.

Brodehl took objection with Bullock’s explanation, saying he drafted the bill to avoid a conflict with federal law.

“We crafted it narrow enough to give him the opportunity to sign a good gun bill,” Brodehl said. “I’m disappointed the governor put his personal views ahead of what’s right for Montanans.”

Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, released the following statement Thursday: “It’s disappointing that following a campaign in which Governor Bullock ran on his support for the Second Amendment that he would turn his back on Montanans so quickly by taking his veto stamp to these bills that protect our fundamental rights.”