HELENA, — The state House backed a bill Monday that would allow people to carry concealed weapons in urban areas without a permit, giving a victory to lawmakers and gun rights supporters who are pushing a slate of firearms legislation.
House Bill 271 would allow anyone eligible to obtain a concealed weapon permit to carry without actually applying for a permit. It is already legal to carry a concealed weapon in rural areas without a permit.
Gun rights advocate Rep. Krayton Kerns described the proposed concealed carry process as "self-certification." Kerns argued it's important to restore gun rights that he said had been legislated away when carrying a concealed weapon was regulated in 1919.
Rep.Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, and Rep. Kris Hansen, R-Havre, voted for the legislation. Rep. Tony Belcourt, D-Rocky Boy, voted no.
The bill moved forward on a 55-45 vote despite drawing the opposition of several Republican representatives, including David Howard of Park City. Howard, a former FBI agent, said he opposed the bill because it makes it more difficult for law enforcement to determine who can legally carry a concealed weapon.
"This bill puts law enforcement in a very grey area," agreed Rep. Margaret MacDonald, D-Billings.
Other supporters said concealed carry is an important right for law abiding people and the bill would make cities no less safe. The bill now faces one more usually procedural vote before heading to the Senate.
Gun-rights bills often have bipartisan backing from Montana lawmakers who say guns are part of the state's culture. However, some of the more expansive bills being considered this session have attracted criticism from some law enforcement and legislators who say the measures go too far and endanger the public.
Kerns, a Republican from Laurel, is sponsoring four other gun measures this session. His bills to allow weapons in places like bars and banks where they're now prohibited, and a proposal to allow the use of silencers while hunting have already passed the House.
His bill to bolster the Montana Firearms Freedom Act passed out of committee Monday. It attempts to prohibit federal regulation of firearms that are manufactured in Montana and remain there. The measure proposes to punish authorities who try to enforce certain federal firearms laws with up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
Supporters of the act say it's a law about asserting state's rights, while opponents say the law is unconstitutional.
A proposal to allow the governor to enter into agreements with other states to enact Firearms Freedom Acts has already cleared the House.
A bill to make allowances for guns on school property brought about by the suspension of a Columbia Falls High school student was stopped in committee Friday.