The Montana House on Thursday passed two bills seeking to prohibit local governments from passing strict gun ordinances.
Republican Rep. Matt Regier said his bills are a response to Missoula city ordinances that require background checks for private gun sales and ban weapons in certain public buildings, parks, places of public assembly and polling sites.
Regier argued Wednesday that local governments cannot regulate the concealed carrying of weapons and said his bills would prevent a patchwork of gun restrictions that could cause confusion.
"This bill will clarify our rights as Montana citizens and clarify the power of local authorities," Regier said.
The first bill passed the House on a 57-42 vote and a second bill, a backup that calls for a referendum on the issue to be placed on the ballot, passed 56-43. The bills now go to the Senate.
Democratic Rep. Connie Keogh of Missoula argued that Regier's efforts would prevent local governments "from passing commonsense public safety measures regarding firearms in public places designed to keep their communities safe."
After Missoula passed its ordinance in 2016 requiring background checks, then-House Speaker Austin Knudsen asked for an attorney general's opinion on its legality. Attorney General Tim Fox said state law denies local government any powers that would affect the right to keep or bear arms.
The city appealed and District Judge Robert Deschamps ruled in October that Missoula has the right to require background checks for private gun sales.
The city said its ordinance was an effort to make it more difficult for people who aren't allowed to own firearms, such as convicted felons, to buy guns from private sellers.
The attorney general is appealing Deschamps' ruling to the Montana Supreme Court. His office has until March 6 to file an opening brief.
No challenges other than Regier's bills have been raised against Missoula's 2018 ordinance to ban weapons from certain public places, city spokeswoman Ginny Merriam said.