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In the upcoming election, Montana voters will decide how much authority local governments should have to regulate firearms.

If the majority votes yes on LR-130, local governments will no longer be able to regulate the carry of permitted, concealed weapons or restrict the open carry of firearms except in public buildings within the governments’ jurisdiction. Local governments would also be unable to prevent the possession of firearms by convicted felons, people with mental illness, undocumented immigrants and children.

If the majority votes no on LR-130, state law will remain as it is.

State Rep. Matt Regier, R-Columbia Falls, sponsored the bill to place LR-130 on the ballot.

“The thought is to protect our Second Amendment rights by keeping it uniform under state and federal law,” Regier said. “So then each city across Montana can’t come up with their own definition of what is mentally ill or how many bullets you can have in a magazine or whatever they can come up with. It would be almost impossible for a permit holder, such as myself, to drive across the state and be compliant with 16 different city ordinances.”

The main group supporting the measure, the NRA Big Sky Self-Defense Committee, has received all of the $16,000 it has raised from the National Rifle Association’s lobbying arm, according to records from the commissioner of political practices.

The Gallatin County Republican Women also support LR-130. They are hosting a car rally titled “Defend the Second, Vote Yes on LR-130” on Sunday that will begin at Bubby’s Burger Barn in Belgrade at 5 p.m.

Opponents to LR-130 include the Montana Federation of Public Employees, the Montana League of Cities and Towns, the Montana Human Rights Network and Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund. Opposition groups have raised about $900,000, according to records from the commissioner of political practices.

Sen. Dick Barrett, D-Missoula, who has been involved in the opposition, said the changes to state law that LR-130 proposes are unnecessary.

“I think local governments do need some ability to regulate firearms,” Barrett said. “There obviously are limits to what local governments can or should do because they can’t violate the law or the Constitution. But they should have the ability to regulate according to their needs.”

Barrett said LR-130 is ultimately about taking away local control.

“We give communities the opportunity to have lots of different kinds of regulations because one size doesn’t fit all,” he said. “Allowing local firearms regulations isn’t any more confusing than the numerous other local rules that exist.”

LR-130 is a response to a 2016 Missoula ordinance that required background checks for all gun sales — including those between private parties.

Attorney General Tim Fox wrote a legal opinion in 2017 saying the ordinance was unconstitutional.

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

Regier said that even though the courts invalidated the Missoula ordinance, LR-130 is still necessary.

“We could keep fighting the court battles, but that’s an expensive way to address this,” he said.

However, Barrett said Montana already has the systems to regulate firearms because the Missoula ordinance was thrown out.

“The proponents say this is to keep cities from violating state law or the Constitution,” he said. “Well, we don’t need a law to say you can’t break the law. As the Missoula case illustrates, if you do something contrary to state law, it will be struck down.”

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

The state Legislature also passed LR-130, which couldn’t be vetoed by the governor and which is now before the voters.

After the state Legislature approved LR-130, some opponents challenged its language in court. The Montana Supreme Court ruled not to change LR-130.

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

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