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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

State Supreme Court says the Legislature can't set rules for guns on campus

People walk in front of a grizzly bear statue on the University of Montana Campus.
Freddy Monares
/
Montana Public Radio
People walk in front of a grizzly bear statue on the University of Montana Campus.

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that the state Legislature does not have the authority to legislate gun rules on college campuses. The justices struck down part of a new law, HB102, that would have expanded concealed carry rights on campuses.

The state high court unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision. The lower court ruled that the law had infringed on the constitutional authority of the Montana Board of Regents.

The Board of Regents was created by the Montana Constitution to govern the state’s university system. The board sued the state over the law and the Associated Students of the University of Montana filed a brief in support of the challenge.

Elizabeth Bowles, a political science student and president of the student group, says the Board of Regents is more accessible to students than the Legislature.

“That’s not something that’s always inherently given or promised in the Montana Legislature if or when they decide to make decisions for the university system. Which is why it’s so important the Board of Regents is allowed that governance and allowed that jurisdiction.”

Bowles said students’ views on gun control on campus run the gamut, and that the board would need to explore those opinions before moving forward with a policy change.

Republican lawmakers had championed the legislation as a win for broadening access to firearms. In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Seth Berglee, who carried the bill through the Legislature, called the Supreme Court’s decision the “most pro-government, anti-freedom ruling” he’s seen in a “long time.”

Kyler Nerison, a spokesperson for Attorney General Austin Knudsen, who defended the law in court, says the decision puts those on college campuses’ “rights and safety at the whims of an unelected governmental body.” When asked whether the attorney general will appeal the decision, Nerison said the office is exploring options.

Shaylee is Montana Public Radio's Capitol reporter. She previously worked for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and covered the 2019 legislative session for the University of Montana's Legislative News Service.