Montana House approves bills on constitutional carry, guns in post offices

Lawmakers in the House on Tuesday voted to send measures expanding permitless carry and to allow guns on post office property to the Montana Senate.

The bills passed along party lines 60-39 and would update to the state’s concealed carry laws while potentially setting the stage for a potential Tenth Amendment challenge with the federal government.

Rep. Bill Harris, R-Helena, sponsor of the permitless carry proposal, argues that nearly a dozen states in the country already codify the right to carry without a permit.

His legislation, HB 262, is a simple one-page act that would allow the carry of concealed firearms in the state without a permit providing the resident can legally possess a firearm. Currently, the state enjoys a rural form of constitutional carry, with permits only required inside city limits. If signed into law, the patchwork system would be homogenized statewide with no permits needed.

With open carry without a permit legal in the state, Second Amendment groups with the Montana Sports Shooting Association argue an expansion to cover concealed firearms is logical.

“Another way to explain this is that if a law-abiding person were wearing a firearm, this bill would make it legal to put on a coat inside city limits without a government permit to dress for cold or wet weather,” notes the group.

However, gun control advocates feel the measure comes with public safety concerns.

“House Bill 262 is a reckless policy that would allow people with no permit, no safety training and even people convicted of violent crimes to carry hidden, loaded guns in our communities,” said Roxane Weikel of the Montana chapter of Moms Demand Action is a statement. “This legislation is completely counter to our long history of responsible gun ownership and does not align with the will of Montanans, or law enforcement.”

Concurrence by the Senate will send the bill to the desk of Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat with a track record of dropping veto ink on gun reform measures. Bullock rejected a permitless carry expansion in 2015, citing it did not address gun safety or mental-health screening for those carrying firearms.

A similar constitutional carry proposal has been introduced in Minnesota and is tracking in New Hampshire where a new Republican governor coming off pro-gun endorsements in his campaign for office appears more receptive than former Democrat Maggie Hassan who twice vetoed such legislation. Meanwhile, in Virginia, a state senate committee scuttled a constitutional carry bill on Wednesday.

Guns in post offices

Rep. Randy Brodehl, R-Kalispell, has advanced a bill aimed at enforcement of federal laws prohibiting guns on property managed by the U.S. Post Office in the state.

His measure, HB 246, would allow firearms to be stored in vehicles temporarily on post office property while conducting business or carried in areas open to the public.

Legal challenges to the longstanding ban on carrying in these areas have tanked in recent years with courts agreeing with the Postal Service the federal jurisdiction over their often leased space and “sensitive place” mantra allows for a gun prohibition — even if a patron has a local concealed carry permit.

The Tenth Amendment Center holds HB 246 does not physically stop the federal government from prosecuting a person arrested on post office property with a gun but instead bars state or local police from assisting in making such arrests.

“The post office would have to rely on federal law enforcement agencies to patrol Montana USPS facilities and make arrests under federal law. It simply does not have the resources to do this effectively,” notes the group.