HELENA — A bill expanding the locations where Montanans can legally carry concealed firearms cleared the state Senate Wednesday, and is expected to head to the desk of Gov. Greg Gianforte.

Proponents say House Bill 102 is a way to cut back on restrictions that keep responsible gun owners from carrying firearms to protect themselves and others.

In its current form, the bill would let Montanans carry concealed firearms in public settings such as banks and bars regardless of whether they have a concealed carry permit. People with permits would also be allowed to carry in government offices. 

The bill would also limit the restrictions the state university system can place on possession of firearms on college campuses. 

The bill provides an outright ban on concealed carry in secure law enforcement facilities, federal buildings, courtrooms, K-12 schools and university sporting events with armed security personnel on site.

Under current law, concealed carry is prohibited in government offices, banks, and bars. Current law doesn’t include a blanket ban on open firearm carry in bars and restaurants, though proprietors may apply their own prohibitions. 

“You’ve got to remember the bad guys don’t follow the laws. We’re affecting law-abiding citizens here, and we’re taking away their Second Amendment rights if we don’t pass this,” Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, said in debate on the Senate floor Tuesday.

Opponents expressed concern that having more guns on hand in bars and on college campuses would make those places more dangerous.

Sen. Jen Gross, a Billings Democrat who works as a bartender and casino attendant, said she doesn’t think guns and alcohol mix safely in a late-night bar setting.

“It’s true that the bill does allow for private property owners and small businesses to prohibit firearms on their premises, but the bill allows for no mechanism for a small business owner, a bar manager, or an employee to determine if someone is concealed carrying on their private property,” Gross said.

The portion of the bill specific to college campuses may also conflict with a provision in the Montana Constitution that lets the state Board of Regents control the university system. Those education officials have opposed the measure, saying it could result in more gun suicides and accidental shootings on campuses.

The bill passed its final vote in the Senate Wednesday afternoon. It now goes back to the House for a vote to reconcile amendments made by senators, and then, if it passes there, on to the governor’s desk.

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Eric came to journalism in a roundabout way after studying engineering at Montana State University in Bozeman (credit, or blame, for his career direction rests with the campus's student newspaper, the Exponent). He has worked as a professional journalist in Montana since 2013, with stints at the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network before joining the Montana Free Press newsroom in Helena full time in 2019.