HELENA — A district court judge on Friday temporarily enjoined the enforcement date of House Bill 102, the bill that would expand permissions for concealed carry firearms on campus starting June 1. The order by Judge Mike McMahon in Lewis and Clark County came in response to a suit filed by the Montana University System Board of Regents, which voted unanimously last week to challenge the new law in court.

In his ruling, McMahon wrote that the board would “suffer immediate and irreparable injury” if the law was allowed to go into effect before the case could proceed. The order applies only to the June 1 effective date and other portions of the bill pertaining to the Montana University System (MUS). Other sections of the bill that allow concealed carry in other public settings took effect when Gov. Greg Gianforte signed HB 102 in February.  

In its motion seeking declaratory and injunctive relief this week, attorneys representing the Board of Regents argued that the board retains constitutional authority “to supervise, coordinate, manage and control the presence and use of firearms on MUS campuses,” and that through HB 102 the Legislature wrongly sought to intervene in the university system.

Attorneys also said that 40,000 students could be confused about whether to comply with HB 102 or with existing policies restricting firearms on campus if the bill were to go into effect while litigation is ongoing. The filing noted that university students, parents and other stakeholders have shared “grave concern” in public comments about maintaining campus safety, student and faculty retention and suicide prevention efforts under HB 102.

Requests for comment on the court’s ruling sent to the offices of Gianforte and Attorney General Knudsen were not immediately returned.

In a statement issued Friday, HB 102 sponsor Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, criticized the board’s decision to file a lawsuit over the measure after he said lawmakers had worked with university officials to address concerns while revising the bill.

“A large majority of our representative branch and the executive branch both approved very measured legislation that would afford adults attending our colleges the same rights they have off campus,” Berglee said. “Suing at the last minute and using the courts to deny our citizens their rights will make our college campuses less safe for students, faculty, and visitors.” 

The Legislature had also included $1 million to help the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education implement the bill under the condition that the university system not pursue a lawsuit, funding that Berglee previously told Montana Free Press is now “off the table.”

Per McMahon’s ruling, the parties involved in the case are now scheduled to appear before the court on Monday, June 7, at 9:00 a.m.

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Mara covers Montana’s social welfare and criminal justice systems, including public health matters such as substance use disorders and mental health care. She also tracks policy and social issues that affect LGBTQ+ people. Prior to joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked at Slate and WNYC, where she focused on radio and podcasts. She got her start in audio journalism as an intern at Montana Public Radio. Contact Mara at msilvers@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 3, and follow her on Twitter.