Montana's Public Universities Could Allow Students, Faculty to Carry Guns on Campuses Next Fall

The Montana Legislature on Monday voted to approve an amendment to a proposed budget bill that would provide funding to help the state's public university system implement a new open-carry law on campus.

If the Montana University System challenges the legality of HB 102, the open-carry bill that Governor Greg Gianforte signed into law in February, the estimated $1 million set aside for the university system within the budget bill would be void, according to The Great Falls Tribune.

The open-carry law sought to revise gun legislation throughout the state and specified the ways in which the law was to remain in effect on public university campuses.

According to HB 102, attempts by the Montana University System, or its board of regents, to block gun possession on the system's campuses "calls into question the rights that the people have reserved to protect themselves from government interference" under the state's constitution.

The bill prohibited university officials from regulating firearms possession on campus, with some exceptions—including discharging weapons and pointing them at others—written into the bill.

The amendment that the Montana Legislature voted 67-33 to approve on Monday encouraged the university system to work toward implementing the state's new open-carry law.

Gun legislation
A person exercises the right to open-carry a firearm as gun owners and Second Amendment advocates gather at the Ohio Statehouse to protest gun control legislation on September 14, 2019. The Montana Legislature recently approved a budget amendment that would provide the state's public university system funding to implement a new open-carry law. Matthew Hatcher/Getty Images

"Implementation of HB 102 is restricted to the provision of full implementation of open and concealed carry of firearms on the Montana University System campuses, including but not limited to firearms training, metal detectors for events, gun safes for campus resident housing, or awareness campaigns," the amendment said. "If the Montana University System files a lawsuit contesting the legality of HB 102, Implementation of HB 102 is void."

Brock Tessman, the Montana University System's deputy commissioner of academic, research and student affairs, told The Great Falls Tribune that while implementing the legislation posed a "significant challenge," university officials were working to find a way to do so.

"This is clearly a significant challenge for our system, and while we were not supporters of the bill, and while we certainly find a lot of complications with the law, we're just doing our best to act within the boundaries of the law," Tessman said. "It's our responsibility."

Tessman told the paper that the university system's board of regents would be the group that would pursue legal challenges to HB 102, if it decides to do so.

Montana University System Board of Regents Chair Casey Lozar told Newsweek the amendment is "welcome" in terms of the assistance it may provide campus safety efforts.

"The Montana University System is an advocate for safe campuses and state support of our safety efforts," Lozar said. "To the degree that these resources may help our future campus safety policy efforts, the amendment is welcome. The Board of Regents is committed to working with the Legislature, the governor and the people of Montana to maintain our campuses as safe places to live, learn and thrive."

The Montana University System is home to 16 public colleges and universities, with an estimated 40,000 students enrolled on its campuses each semester, according to its website.

Though Montana had one of the lowest statewide populations in the U.S. in 2020, according to data compiled by Statistica, the Giffords Law Center ranks Montana as having one of the highest gun death rates in the U.S. According to 2020 data compiled by the Giffords Law Center, Montana reported 18.93 gun violence-related deaths per 100,000 residents last year, ranking it the 10th-worst state in that category.

This story was updated on March 25 to include a response from Montana University System Board of Regents Chair Casey Lozar.