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A new law broadening where concealed weapons can be carried with or without a permit has implications for public employees working where firearms are now allowed and individual business owners who are left deciding whether to restrict firearms on their premises.

House Bill 102, signed into law on Feb. 18 by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, allows people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit in most public settings, including banks and bars. Those with a permit will be able to carry in state and local government offices.

However, private property owners and tenants are able to ban firearms on their premises.

The law also limits the power of the Board of Regents to place restrictions on firearms on the university system’s campuses.

Amanda Curtis, president of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, said the union’s members are frustrated and generally oppose House Bill 102. The MFPE represents over 25,000 state employees, including those in the university system, state, county and municipal workers, health care workers and K-12 educators.

The MFPE is encouraging the Board of Regents to sue over the constitutionality of HB 102, but even if that were to happen, it wouldn’t change the law’s other provisions expanding areas of concealed carry.

“Unfortunately, even if the Board of Regents decide to litigate, it doesn’t help the members in public offices,” Curtis said. “…City, county and state government offices all across Montana, in the motor vehicle division, local tax departments, those are all public facing offices and those are now no longer gun free zones.”

Curtis said those employees in public front-facing jobs are concerned over how disputes might escalate with firearms in their work places.

“The state has basically issued letters to them saying if you feel unsafe at work you can now carry, you can protect yourself at work,” Curtis said.

Small business owners of bars, banks and restaurants are now grappling with the decision on whether or not to prohibit firearms on their premises.

Cary Hegreberg, president and CEO of the Montana Bankers Association, said his organization originally opposed the bill. Before HB 102 was signed into law, firearms were prohibited from financial institutions.

“The last thing any business, including a bank, wants is an armed confrontation that might put their employees and their customers at risk. That will be a paramount concern moving forward,” Hegreberg said. “… At this point, it seems to be a mixed bag in terms of how various banks will approach the issue.”

Hegreberg said he’s heard from some members who said they intend to post signs prohibiting firearms on their premises and others who have decided not to prohibit it. It in large part depends on the community and preference of employees, he said.

In an unofficial polling of banks, Hegreberg said banks in small, rural communities are less likely to prohibit firearms “because they know their customers more intimately.”

Others are still deciding and are perhaps waiting to see what their peers and competitors decide to do.

“I think there’s concern on the part of any business that would post a sign prohibiting firearms that they might provoke a confrontation with a customer who found fault with the policy,” Hegreberg said, adding that some customers who feel passionate about the issue might move their business to a different bank.

Although the new law gives banks and other business owners the right to post a sign forbidding firearms, Hegreberg said actual compliance and enforcement is another matter of concern.

No association member banks have announced plans to implement metal detectors or additional safety precautions, according to Hegreberg. It will continue to be up to the individual on whether or not they choose to abide by the business owners wishes, he said.

“By and large, people are trustworthy. But let’s face it, compliance is on the honor system,” Hegreberg said. “Concealed weapons are just that. They’re concealed…. It’s been on the honor system in the past and even if they post signs it will continue to be on the honor system.”

Hegreberg said the focus for many of the bank owners and managers remains on ensuring a safe work environment for staff and customers.

“It’s going to be a case-by-case basis and experience will tell us as an industry what works and what doesn’t and maybe how to adjust in the future,” he said.

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

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

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