Election Day 2020

Voters wait in line to vote at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds on Tuesday.

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Montana voters have decided to reduce local governments’ authority to regulate firearms.

In Tuesday’s election, voters approved LR-130 by a slim margin — 51% to 49%.

With the passage of LR-130, local governments can no longer regulate the carry of permitted, concealed weapons or restrict the open carry of firearms except in public buildings within the governments’ jurisdiction. Local governments also cannot prevent the possession of firearms by convicted felons, people with mental illness, undocumented immigrants or children.

“LR-130 protects us from entities in the future enacting stricter gun laws than exist at the state level,” said state Rep. Matt Regier, R-Columbia Falls, who sponsored the bill to place LR-130 on the ballot.

He said LR-130 prevents Montana from having a patchwork of local gun ordinances, which could be difficult to track and comply with.

Several cities in Montana have rules prohibiting open or concealed carry at public gatherings or in parks or cemeteries that, with the passage of LR-130, may be illegitimate. For instance, the ordinances in Libby and Culbertson banning guns in cemeteries are likely no longer legal, and Helena likely won’t be able to continue requiring concealed carriers to alert local authorities if they visit or live in the city.

The NRA Big Sky Self-Defense Committee, the main group that supported LR-130, received nearly all the $51,600 it raised from the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, according to records from the commissioner of political practices.

The unsuccessful “Vote No on LR-130” campaign raised about $1.4 million and received significant in-kind contributions from national and state groups, including the Montana Federation of Public Employees, the Montana League of Cities and Towns, Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and the Montana Human Rights Network, according to the commissioner of political practices records.

Amanda Curtis, president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, said she’s worried that the passage of LR-130 will lead to a loss of local control.

“It hurts democracy when local people can’t make their own decisions,” she said.

Curtis said it’s unclear how LR-130 will affect existing local gun ordinances.

“We really don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “It’s so badly written that nobody can actually agree on what it means.”

LR-130 was proposed in response to a 2016 Missoula ordinance that required background checks for all gun sales, including those between private parties.

In 2017, Attorney General Tim Fox issued a legal opinion declaring the ordinance unconstitutional.

The city of Missoula then took the ordinance to court. The case was eventually appealed to the Montana Supreme Court, which determined in 2019 that the ordinance couldn’t be enforced.

After the Montana Supreme Court ruling, Regier introduced a bill identical to LR-130 during the 2019 legislative session. The bill passed the Republican-led House and Senate, but Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed it.

The state Legislature also passed LR-130, which Bullock couldn’t veto.

After the state Legislature approved LR-130, some opponents challenged its language in court. The Montana Supreme Court let LR-130 remain as written, and it went before voters on Tuesday.

Also, on Tuesday, voters overwhelmingly approved two constitutional amendments — 46 and 47 — which revised the state constitution’s language to match the existing signature requirements for constitutional amendments and initiatives to appear on the ballot.

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Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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