Gun Safety Bill Written By Helena Youth Group Fails

Apr 11, 2019

A bill that a group of Montana high school students wrote to try to reduce gun violence in the state was killed in a Senate committee Thursday.

It was written by Helena Youth Against Gun Violence, which formed in response to the Parkland, Florida school shooting in which 17 people were killed in February of 2018.

Helena High School Senior Amanda Penley, who helped start the group, says they wrote a bill that they didn’t think would be controversial, even in a state with strong Second Amendment opinions.

"We knew that we would be fools if we entered the Montana Legislature trying to restrict what types of firearms people can own, when they can buy them, how many they can buy. We knew that wasn’t an option. We didn’t want to bring forth legislation that had no chance," she says.

Amanda Penley speaks during a meeting of Helena Youth Against Gun Violence, Dec. 5, 2018. Penley helped form the group in March 2018.
Credit Eric Whitney / Montana Public Radio

So Penley’s group wrote a bill based on a Texas law that makes it a crime for adults to leave firearms accessible to children, if doing so results in serious injury or death. It also required the state school superintendent, "to develop and maintain model school district policies for firearms safety education."

The bill passed the House, but not before an amendment stripped the provision about safe gun storage out of it. Penley says they decided to continue lobbying for their bill even though only the education component remained.

"I learned a whole heck of a lot about compromise. It would have been very easy for us to, after out bill had been amended, to cross our arms and say, 'you know what, we’re done. We needed this to pass in its entirety'. But the truth of the matter was, we still wanted that component to pass."

Penley was troubled that the NRA flew-in a lobbyist to testify against the Helena Youth bill, even as the bill advocated using NRA gun safety curriculum to teach kids proper gun protocol. She says she thinks the bill died due to many Montanans’ unwillingness to consider gun legislation of any kind. But she doesn’t think the students' effort was a failure.

"Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no. By no means did we fail. The waves we made with this bill is simply remarkable. And by bringing this bill forward we’ve created a much wider, maybe less confrontational discussion about gun safety and all that we’re doing to protect our kids. We’re not defeated, obviously we're disappointed."

Penley says Helena Youth Against Gun Violence plans to remain active, and will now focus their efforts on broadening access to gun safety education in local schools.