Restaurant concealed carry bill passes Montana Senate

A House measure to allow concealed permit holders to carry in restaurants where alcohol is served was approved Wednesday in the Montana Senate.

The proposal, HB 494, passed the House 62-37 in February and the Senate 31-19 this week and would amend Montana law to allow concealed carry by permit holders in restaurants that serve alcohol but it is not the primary item of sale.

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, who ran the bill in the Senate, argued on the floor this week the measure simply allows an armed Montanan to be discreet in carrying a handgun in a restaurant. Under current law, an armed concealed carry holder would have to either openly carry their firearm into an eatery that serves alcohol or leave it in their vehicle.

“I’ve received several messages about this bill saying that alcohol and guns don’t mix. Apparently, with Montana’s open carry laws, alcohol and guns have been mixing for a long time,” Regier said. “For me, this bill is about discretion. Open carry in a restaurant would probably make some people uncomfortable. The discreet thing to do is cover it.”

Speaking in opposition to the measure was Sen. Margie MacDonald, D-Billings, who held HB 494 did not take the rights of private property owners and patrons into account, arguing that if someone was open carrying they could be asked to leave, while if someone had a concealed weapon the proprietor may not know the person was armed.

“The room could be full of people with loaded weapons — not all of whom have good judgment, and not all of whom are sober,” MacDonald said.

Gun control advocates with Everytown and Moms Demand Action are calling on Gov. Steve Bullock to veto the bill, criticizing this week’s Senate vote.

The measure has the support of the Montana Shooting Sports Foundation and the National Rifle Association.

“The right to self-defense should not be unnecessarily banned due to the presence of a product that is legally sold in an establishment that is licensed to do so,” contends an alert from the NRA’s lobbying arm.

Bullock, a Democrat, has repeatedly vetoed gun rights expansions including two measures last month that would have added Montana to the list of states that allow statewide permitless concealed carry and a bill to grant carry at federal post offices.