HELENA — The Montana Senate has endorsed a bill expanding where and how someone can carry a gun in the state.
In an initial vote Tuesday, senators voted 30-20 in favor of House Bill 102, sponsored by Rep. Seth Berglee of Joliet. Most Republicans supported the bill, with two Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it.
The bill would allow people to carry concealed firearms without a permit in most locations, and with a permit in state and local government buildings. It also limits how college administrators can regulate guns on campus.
The Senate Judiciary Committee initially advanced HB 102 last Tuesday, but the bill was then rereferred to the committee, where it was amended. The changes included allowing judges to prohibit concealed carry in certain areas of courthouses, letting campuses regulate guns at some sports and entertainment events where they provide security, and removing the penalty for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit in bars or restaurants where alcohol is sold.
Berglee said he had worked on changes to HB 102 after hearing concerns from county attorneys and the Montana University System Board of Regents. He said the provision expanding concealed carry rights in bars and restaurants was part of the overall goal of his bill – allowing concealed carry in places where the state currently allows people to carry guns openly.
“If you have people that are out of state, they might not feel comfortable if someone walks in with a pistol strapped on, but under Montana law, that’s the way that it is now,” he said. “So to me, it seems like it’s a very common-sense change to allow those people to cover it up, to conceal it, to put a coat or a shirt over it.”
If HB 102 becomes law, people with a concealed weapons permit would be able to carry a concealed firearm in the Montana State Capitol.
“To me, if you’ve got a permit, I’m not worried about those people carrying a gun,” Berglee said. “They’re the people I want to be around.”
Another bill related to firearms in the Capitol is also being heard this week. Senate Bill 158, sponsored by Republican Sen. Steve Hinebauch of Wibaux, would allow all legislators to carry a concealed handgun on any part of state property open to the public. The bill is having its first hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
HB 102 will now go through a final vote in the Senate. If it passes, the House will have to vote on whether to accept the amendments senators added.