Last Thursday, a bill breezed through the House that would allow concealed carry permits for guns be valid in any state that issues permits.
But, a similar Concealed Carry Reciprocity bill headed to the Senate may not have such an easy time.
Some Montana law enforcement officials are concerned that visitors with concealed weapons may not meet the state’s standards for a concealed carry permit. They also worry that national reciprocity could complicate how law enforcement verify out-of-state permits.
Responses to the proposed bill from Montana’s senators range from enthusiasm to caution.
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester is “reviewing the legislation and gathering feedback from Montanans,” said Dave Kuntz, the senator’s press secretary.
Republican Sen. Steve Daines is one of the bill’s numerous co-sponsors.
“As a concealed carry permit holder myself, I am glad to see this legislation moving forward,” Daines said in an earlier statement. “Montanans’ Second Amendment rights don’t disappear when they cross state lines.”
Montana requires concealed carry permit holders to have some type of firearms training, such as a hunter’s safety course, and to undergo a background check. Permits from 43 states are recognized in Montana, including all 10 states that do not recognize any out-of-state permits. Montana permits are not recognized by eight states, in addition to the 10 that do not accept any out-of-state concealed carry permit.
There is agreement among Montana's senators that the legislation not allow a national database of permit holders, or the sharing of concealed carry information to third-party reporting systems.
The Senate bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas calls for concealed carry permits to be treated like a driver’s license. But, while there is a national data base to check driver’s licenses, there isn’t one for concealed carry permits.
Montana’s law enforcement officers have access to a state-run database called the Criminal Justice Information Network, or CJIN. A second database, the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, the NCIC, can also be accessed by officers. Checking information in the two databases can take officers about 12 seconds, but often half that, said Jennifer Viets, director of CJIN.
Without a national concealed carry data base, checking the validity of out-of-state permits can be tricky and time-consuming. Officers would have to find and contact one of hundreds of issuing agencies.
There is a multi-state concealed carry data base in Arizona, the nonprofit International Law Enforcement and Public Safety Network. Officers can use that service to verify out-of-state permits, but only 23 states share their information with the program.
Viets of CJIN said having multi-state access to concealed carry permit information helps both officers and permit holders.
“From our perspective, those that have a concealed weapons permit, they’re the good guys. They passed the background check and are following the law,” Viets said.
The ability to verify concealed carry permits also allows law enforcement to identify fraudulent documents. In Montana, permits are issued at the county level and can vary in appearance. Permits from other states don’t have a uniform format either.
“They could be fake. People fake driver’s licenses,” said Park County Sheriff Scott Hamilton. “That’s why it’s important to be able to verify their validity.”
Hamilton said knowing the person being stopped by police has a concealed weapons permit doesn’t affect the way he handles the situation. He assumes every person or vehicle he approaches has a firearm.
“That’s kind of how it is in Montana,” he said.
Hamilton said he believes a national reciprocity law could be a good thing, but he has some concerns the current bill as it’s currently written allows permit holders from states like New Hampshire where no firearms training is required.
He would favor a law that also sets national minimum standards.