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Montana relaxes gun restrictions, allows guns on campuses

February 19, 2021 GMT
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, center, signs HB102 on Thursday, Feb. 18. 2021, in the State Capitol in Helena, Mont. The bill allows concealed firearms to be carried in most places in the state without a permit, and expands the list of places where guns can be carried to include university campuses and the state Capitol. (AP Photo/Iris Samuels)
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, center, signs HB102 on Thursday, Feb. 18. 2021, in the State Capitol in Helena, Mont. The bill allows concealed firearms to be carried in most places in the state without a permit, and expands the list of places where guns can be carried to include university campuses and the state Capitol. (AP Photo/Iris Samuels)

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A bill signed into law Thursday by Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte allows concealed firearms to be carried in most places in the state without a permit, and it expands the list of places where guns can be carried to include university campuses and the state Capitol.

Gianforte, the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years, said Thursday that he was signing the bill because “gun control measures step on the rights of law abiding citizens” and “every law abiding Montanan should be able to defend themselves and their loved ones.”

The bill was sponsored by Republican Rep. Seth Berglee, and it passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate along party lines, with Democrats opposed.

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“Educators, gun owners, bankers, and law enforcement officials came in to oppose this bill because it makes our communities and our campuses less safe,” said Democratic House Minority Leader Kim Abbott in a statement.

The law allows concealed firearms to be carried without a permit inside bars and banks. Private property owners and tenants are allowed to ban firearms on their premises.

It also allows permit holders to carry concealed firearms inside state and local government buildings, including the Capitol. Current rules ban all firearms inside the Capitol and other state government buildings.

The changes take effect immediately.

Spokespeople for the governor’s office and the Department of Administration, which oversees security in the capitol, said a new policy “is forthcoming.”

A separate bill making its way through the session would allow lawmakers to carry concealed handguns without a permit on state property.

On public university campuses, the law will permit firearms as long as gun owners follow certain training requirements and regulations laid out by the university system board of regents, including a ban on firearms at campus athletic or entertainment events.

Firearms carried on university campuses must be kept inside holsters unless removed for self defense, and they must be stored in locking devices.

The new rules affecting university campuses will take effect June 1. Previously, the university system board of regents had banned firearms on all public campuses.

Supporters of the bill said getting rid of gun-free zones will increase safety by allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves. Opponents said it will jeopardize public safety and risk increasing Montana’s suicide rate, already one of the highest in the nation.

Former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed several gun-related measures passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature during his tenure, including bills that would have allowed legislators to carry concealed firearms in the Capitol and eliminated local governments’ ability to restrict concealed firearms.

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Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.