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American exceptionalism

At the end of the 2019 Legislature, Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill that would have rescinded the authority of Montana cities, counties and public schools to restrict the concealed carry of firearms in parks, schools and other public places.

A Republican majority in the Legislature passed the same proposal as a referendum, which is not subject to the governor's veto. That proposal will be on the General Election Ballot in November 2020.

Last week, a petition was filed asking the Montana Supreme Court to direct Attorney General Tim Fox to revise the statement his office wrote that is supposed to summarize LR-130 on the ballot. The Montana Federation of Public Employees, Montana School Boards Association, Montana League of Cities and Towns, the city of Missoula, Montana Human Rights Network and Everytown for Gun Safety contend that the AG's proposed ballot statement fails to provide the information required by law.

The Supreme Court will rule on the legality of the ballot language, but ultimately, Montana voters will pass judgment on LR-130. While gun violence and public safety are top of mind in America, Montanans should learn about the firearms referendum on our 2020 ballot.

Here is what the law says now:

  • Montana local governments, including schools are forbidden any power that affects the right to keep or bear arms "except that a local government has the power to regulate the carrying of concealed weapons." LR-130 would delete that exception.
  • The referendum also would change a statute that allows local government to prevent or suppress the carrying of concealed or unconcealed firearms to "a public assembly", publicly owned building, park or school and "the possession of firearms by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens and minors."

LR-130 would negate all those provisions that are intended to stop people who shouldn't have guns from carrying them and would stop local governments from keeping guns from public buildings and public spaces to protect public safety.

Introducing his referendum, House Bill 325, Rep. Matt Regier, of Columbia Falls, said it would avoid confusion and a patchwork of local firearms laws. In truth, this referendum is intended to negate the 2016 Missoula ordinance requiring background checks for firearm purchases in that city.

Attorney General Fox issued a legal opinion saying that Missoula didn't have legal authority to enact the ordinance, but a state District Court judge upheld the ordinance and an appeal is pending before the Montana Supreme Court.

If voters approve LR-130, the Missoula case will be moot. The state law would be changed to ban all Montana cities, counties and school districts from doing what Missoula did to help ensure that guns stay of of hands that shouldn't have firearms.

What Regier called confusion is actually local control. For more than a 130 years, Montana law has allowed local residents to decide that gun-free city parks or schools are in the interest of public safety.

"Montana law already contains strong protections that totally prohibit localities from restricting our basic right to keep and bear arms,"  Bullock, a former Montana attorney general, wrote in his May 3 veto letter. "House Bill 325 does something else, eliminating local control over whether the mentally ill may bring guns into schools, or whether a local government can permit concealed weapons."

The question Montana voters will answer in November 2020 is: Do you want state legislators to further restrict what local councils, commissions and school boards can do?

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.