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People throughout the Montana University System expressed opposition to Montana’s recent law allowing firearm carry on campuses, with many urging the Board of Regents to mount a legal challenge to it.

Students, faculty members, campus employees, parents of students, health care workers, alumni and community members during a listening session Wednesday expressed concerns over having firearms on campus and the constitutionality of the law. A handful of speakers said they supported the firearm campus carry policy.

The listening session from 3 to 5:30 p.m. was held by the Board of Regents’ Academic, Research and Student Affairs Committee to receive feedback on the draft firearm carry policy released earlier this week. The Board is scheduled to vote on the policy or future steps during its next meeting at the end of May.

More than 170 people signed up to provide public comment with around 600 people tuning into the virtual meeting. An additional 1,500-plus written comments have been submitted to the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education in the past month.

Many university system staff and employees said they are concerned about their safety and the safety of students. They also expressed concern about the possible overreach of the Legislature to usurp the constitutional authority of the Board of Regents to manage the campuses in the university system.

Brad Hall, the University of Montana’s tribal outreach specialist, said he was concerned about expanding firearm access with the “emboldening of white supremacists” in the state.

“I feel like with this law anyone could perceive this (Payne Family Native American Center) as a target,” Hall said.

Kathy Malone said during her husband Michael Malone’s term as the 10th president of Montana State University, two students were shot over a card game in a dorm in May 1990. She said she was concerned similar incidents could occur.

“I can’t begin to tell you how the grief encapsulated the whole campus,” Malone said.

A number of the parents who spoke out against campus firearm carry had children who were recently accepted for the fall 2021 semester. They said they were now concerned about sending their children to colleges in the university system.

“I just think it’s very dangerous and unsafe and I’m having second thoughts about sending my son,” said Sarah Kopf, one parent whose son was recently accepted.

Emma Carlson, an MSU student, said as more incidents of gun violence have occurred in the country, she has become fearful of going to class — thinking something like that could happen at MSU.

Some who spoke out against the firearm carry policy said they were victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or gun violence.

Annie Belcourt, who said she is Indigenous, spoke as a faculty member, alumni and parent within the university system. She said as a victim of domestic violence she was worried about the addition of guns to college campuses.

“I would like to ask that actions be taken to protect the lives of faculty, students and staff,” Belcourt said.

A handful of the speakers said they supported firearm carry on campus. They emphasized the importance of ensuring the right to bear arms.

“I encourage the Board of Regents to reject pressure to litigate this incident and encourage them to pass the draft policy,” said Thomas Shepherd, a parent of an MSU student. “I think it’s mostly good with well-balanced points of view.”

Michelle Werle from Helena College said a survey the college conducted earlier in the semester showed many of its students supported the firearm carry policy.

Another university system student who spoke in support of the law said there was a lot of fear mongering happening in the listening session. He said the right to bear arms was a federal right and to deny students that was wrong.

The full Board of Regents will meet May 26 and 27 to vote on a draft firearm campus carry policy.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.

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