Montana Supreme Court: new campus gun law is unconstitutional

UM Campus
Posted at 11:00 AM, Jun 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-29 16:12:03-04

HELENA — The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that the Board of Regents - not the Montana Legislature - has the sole right to set policy regarding the possession of firearms on the Montana University System (MUS) property.

House Bill 102, passed by the Montana Legislature and signed by Governor Greg Gianforte last 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.

In December, Helena District Court Judge Mike McMahon declared that HB 102 unconstitutionally infringed on the regents’ authority to manage the Montana University System.

Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s Office appealed the ruling to the Montana Supreme Court.

The state's high court ruled unanimously that the Montana Constitution specifically provides that government and control of the university system is vested in the Board of Regents, and that campus safety and security is an integral responsibility of the Board of Regents’ constitutional authority.

Justice Laurie McKinnon said in her opinion, “Maintaining a safe and secure educational environment falls squarely within the Board’s constitutional authority…”

The ruling declares that the portion of House Bill 102 dealing with campus firearm policy is unconstitutional.

The Board of Regents currently has a policy that bans firearm possession on state campuses, except by trained law enforcement personnel or security officers.

MUS told MTN in a statement that they appreciate the clarity this ruling establishes:

The MUS appreciates the clarity provided by the Montana Supreme Court. From the outset, the Board of Regents sought judicial review of HB 102 to determine the appropriate entity for setting policy for the state's public colleges and universities. The Board of Regents values its strong partnership with the Legislature and will continue to work on shared goals and priorities to strengthen the state's economy and provide world-class educational opportunities to Montanans.

Montana Department of Justice communications director Kyler Nerison blasted the ruling, saying it did not improve security on campuses:

House Bill 102 was an historic expansion of Montanans’ rights and their ability to defend themselves. As the court notes in its opinion, being sheltered within a “gun-free zone” hasn’t prevented students from being murdered on university campuses in Montana. The Montana Supreme Court’s decision today relegates university students and employees to second-class citizens, putting their rights and safety at the whims of an unelected governmental body that now has veto power over state laws it disagrees with.

The Montana Board of Regents consists of seven members appointed by the Governor, and confirmed by the Montana Senate, to seven year overlapping terms.