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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Amended Gun Safety Bill Proposed By Helena Students Clears House Vote

Pistol stock photo.
Hand gun.

Legislation from Helena high school students attempting to reduce gun deaths in Montana has passed out of the House. Now that it’s before the Senate, it looks significantly different than it used to, after it was changed in order to win approval from some conservative lawmakers.

A year after 17 people were shot to death at a high school in Parkland, Florida, 13 months ago, students in Helena teamed up with a local Democratic lawmaker to introduce House Bill 477.

The bill would have made it a punishable crime, with a $1,000 fine, if an adult left a loaded gun accessible to a kid and that resulted in injury or death.

The legislation would have also required firearm dealers to publicly post the law in their shops.

Those rules were stripped from the bill before it passed out of the House. Left in place is a the requirement for the Montana Office of Public Instruction to create a policy for gun safety education in schools. School districts would have the option of using that curriculum. 

Despite the changes, students with Helena Youth Against Gun Violence are still supporting the bill.

Amanda Penley, among other students, asked a judiciary committee to vote in favor of the amended bill during its first hearing in the Senate, Wednesday.

"This bill is about teaching all kids how to be safe around firearms. Not just the kids that have parents who enjoy hunting, not just the kids that grow up on a ranch, not just the kids that take hunters [education]."

Some Republican lawmakers in the House had objected to a new law that would change gun ownership regulation.

Representative Theresa Manzella, a Republican from Hamilton, says the bill’s previous language was vague about when a person could be charged with a crime. She spoke just before voting no on the amended bill during its House committee debate.

"Words matter. And the wording is far too ambiguous. And, quite frankly, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; those words matter too."

The bill passed out of the House on a 61-35 vote.

It has not yet faced a vote in the Senate, following Wednesday’s hearing before that body’s judiciary committee.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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