Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte last week signed a bill recognizing that law-abiding Montana gun owners 18 or older may carry a concealed firearm without written authorization from the government.

The measure approved by the Republican governor, HB 102, was approved 68-30 by the state House and 29-21 by the state Senate, largely along party lines earlier this month. Gianforte signed the proposal last Thursday. 

"Our Second Amendment-protected right to keep and bear arms is part of Montana’s, and our nation’s, rich heritage," said  Gianforte in a statement. "We have a responsibility to preserve it."

The new law strengthens the state's self-defense laws by removing a patchwork of “gun-free zones,” such as in metropolitan areas, banks, and bars. Further, it limits how public universities and colleges can establish such zones. What it does not do is change who can legally possess a firearm, affect laws governing the misuse of a gun, modify the state's self-defense laws, or remove the ability for private property owners to prohibit firearms. 

The move was welcomed by a host of Second Amendment organizations including the Gun Owners of America, the Montana Shooting Sports Association, and the National Rifle Association, many of which pointed out that Gianforte broke with the past governor's record of vetoing such popular legislation. 

“Governor Gianforte is a true friend of Montana gun owners," said Erich Pratt, senior vice president of GOA. "The previous, anti-gun governor Steve Bullock kept vetoing legislation to expand permitless carry to the entire state. But with Gianforte, we now have a true Second Amendment champion sitting at the governor’s desk."

Montana joins 17 other states – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming – in recognizing broad permitless carry rights. A notable one of these, Utah, approved such a bill last week. Twenty years ago, just a single state, Vermont, had constitutional carry protections in place.