Judge finds portions of new state gun law unconstitutional

UM Griz.jpg
MSU campus.jpg
Posted at 7:54 PM, Dec 01, 2021

HELENA — A state district judge in Helena has ruled against a new state law that sought to prohibit the state Board of Regents from banning firearms on state college campuses.

On Tuesday, Judge Michael McMahon of the First Judicial District issued an order, saying House Bill 102 unconstitutionally infringed on the regents’ authority to manage the Montana University System. He ordered a permanent injunction, preventing the state from enforcing the provisions of that law that applied to MUS.

HB 102, passed by the Montana Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte earlier this year, made a number of changes expanding where and how someone can carry a gun. One of its provisions said MUS could not “regulate, restrict, or place an undue burden on the possession, transportation, or storage of firearms” by someone who had met safety and training requirements.

The Board of Regents currently has a policy that bans firearm possession on state campuses, except by trained law enforcement or security officers. Supporters of HB 102 argued that was an infringement on the right to keep and bear arms.

In his decision, McMahon said the Montana Constitution explicitly gave the Board of Regents full power to control state universities – independent from the Legislature – so the authority to determine firearms policy on campus belongs to them.

McMahon said the question of whether the regents’ gun policy violated Second Amendment rights wasn’t at issue in this case, but pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court case that said it could be permissible to prohibit guns in schools and government buildings.

This decision does not affect the other provisions of HB 102.

Emilee Cantrell, press secretary for Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said the AG's office has already filed to appeal McMahon's decision.

"We disagree with the judge’s decision," she said in a statement. "State law applies on college campuses. The Board of Regents does not have the power to pick and choose which state laws it will follow. Montanans do not forfeit their constitutional rights when they step foot onto a college campus.”

Rep. Seth Berglee, R-Joliet, sponsored HB 102.

"The language and implications of the decision issued yesterday against HB 102 are shocking," he said in a statement Tuesday. "Judge McMahon concluded that the Board of Regents and not the Legislature has full control over sections 4 through 12 of Article II of the MT Constitution. These include Individual dignity, Freedom of religion, Freedom of assembly, Freedom of speech, expression, and press, Right of participation, Right to know, Right of privacy, Searches and seizures, and the Right to bear arms. That unelected Board of Regents members would have the ability to unilaterally limit these constitutional rights should be a concern to all Montanans."