Saturday, October 23, 2021

Montana universities eye plan for students to carry guns

by AMY BETH HANSON Associated Press
| May 11, 2021 8:00 AM

HELENA (AP) — People could have concealed weapons on Montana's public college campuses if they have firearms training and keep the guns holstered or locked in their rooms, with an exception for self-defense, under a policy proposed by the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.

Under the proposal, students, faculty and others would be allowed to carry on campus if they can certify they have a concealed firearm permit in Montana, a similar permit from another state or firearms safety training.

The university system is also proposing a course for those wanting to possess weapons while living in campus housing.

The policy is needed following legislation, sponsored by Republican Rep. Seth Berglee of Joliet, that expands the number of places people can carry a concealed firearm to also include bank lobbies, restaurants and bars. He said it would reduce the possibility of mass shootings by enabling people to defend themselves.

A legal analysis attached to the bill said there could be constitutional issues with expanding the carrying of concealed weapons to university campuses. The Montana Constitution gives the Board of Regents "full power, responsibility and authority to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the Montana university system," the note stated.

Berglee argued the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution supersedes that provision in Montana's Constitution.

Opponents of the bill said having more guns on campuses could exacerbate Montana's already high suicide rate.

The Academic, Research and Student Affairs Committee of the Montana Board of Regents will hear public comments on the proposal Wednesday during a video conference.

About 150 people had signed up to comment on the policy by Monday afternoon, said Helen Thigpen, deputy legal counsel for the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education. More than 800 people had signed up to watch the meeting, so it was made available on a livestream, she said. The meeting is set to run from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

The Montana Board of Regents is set to vote on the policy during its meeting on May 26-27. If approved, the policy would take effect on June 1.

Students with histories of campus discipline due to violence or substance abuse could be denied the ability to carry a weapon, under the proposed policy. In addition, firearms would not be allowed at campus events where alcohol is being served and consumed or at concerts or sporting events.

The Board of Regents had previously banned firearms on campus for all but security officers. Campuses were allowed to set regulations for the transportation and storage of firearms on campus.