Montana Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Allowing Concealed Carry on Campuses

The court's decision marks the second time Montana has failed to defend its concealed carry law, which passed in early 2021.
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  • This decision is the latest in a 1.5-year battle over a concealed carry law.
  • Montana's Supreme Court will keep an order forbidding concealed carry at public college campuses.
  • The bill's sponsor called the court's decision an "anti-freedom" ruling.

The Montana Board of Regents is the sole arbiter of gun policy at the state's public universities, a court stated.

The state Supreme Court handed down a decision in late June that reaffirmed a lower court's ruling that a law extending concealed carry permissions to college campuses is unconstitutional.

The law, HB 102, passed in February 2021 and specifically prohibited the board of regents from enforcing any rule that "diminishes or restricts the rights of the people to keep or bear arms."

Montana's Supreme Court unanimously decided that the state's constitution gives the board sole authority to regulate Montana University System (MUS) campuses.

"While the mission of the MUS remains teaching, research, and public service, the board has determined … that the presence of firearms on MUS campuses presents an unacceptable risk to a safe and secure educational environment, thus undermining these goals," the court wrote in its final decision. "Students, faculty, and support personnel rely on the board to assess security risks and make decisions that will enhance the safety, security, and stability of the educational environment as a whole, consistent with the MUS mission. Thus, maintaining a safe and secure educational environment falls squarely within the board's constitutional authority."

HB 102 went into effect in February 2021, but the law was only applied for just over three months. A District Court judge issued a temporary restraining order on May 27, 2021, to stop the application of the law. That order turned into a preliminary injunction in early June.

Lewis and Clark County District Court Judge Michael McMahon officially struck down most of the law on Nov. 30, according to the Montana Free Press.

Republicans in support of the law lamented the recent court decision. State Rep. Seth Berglee, the primary sponsor of HB 102, called the Supreme Court's decision the "most pro-government, anti-freedom ruling" he's seen in a "long time," according to Montana's NPR affiliate.

A spokesperson for the state's attorney general did not say whether the state would appeal the decision again, according to the NPR report.

The laws regarding concealed carry on college campuses vary across the U.S.

A 2020 analysis of concealed carry laws found that 11 states expressly permit carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus. That includes traditionally conservative states — including Texas and Tennessee — as well as progressive states like Colorado and Oregon.

Colorado's board of regents lost a 2012 Colorado Supreme Court case that would have allowed the board to enforce its own concealed carry rules. Students sued the board over its policies limiting concealed carry on campuses.

The Montana Supreme Court sided with the state's board of regents, thanks in part to debate during Montana's 1972 Constitutional Convention. During that discussion, the framers of the constitution intended to place MUS out of the reach of politicians and instead in the hands of the board of regents, according to the court's decision.