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Supreme Court: Montana regents make campus gun rules

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HELENA — Montana’s Board of Regents, not the Legislature, has the constitutional authority to regulate the possession and storage of firearms on public college campuses, the Montana Supreme Court ruled on June 29.

The unanimous decision upholds a lower court ruling that found lawmakers overstepped their authority in 2021 when they passed legislation to revise gun laws that included a provision to allow more people to carry guns on Montana University System campuses.

Montana’s constitution gives the Board of Regents the authority to regulate the university system, and the courts agreed with the board that its power includes setting campus firearms policies.

The Montana University System “appreciates the clarity provided by the Montana Supreme Court,” spokesperson Helen Thigpen said in a statement.

The Board of Regents has a policy banning firearm possession on campuses, with exceptions for law enforcement and security officers, as well as policies governing the storage and access to firearms on campus.

“The Board is constitutionally vested with full responsibility to supervise, coordinate, manage, and control the (Montana University System) and its properties,” Justice Laurie McKinnon wrote. “The regulation of firearms on MUS campuses falls squarely within this authority.”

House Bill 102, passed by the Republican-controlled 2021 Legislature and signed by GOP Gov. Greg Gianforte, expanded the places where guns may be carried, including concealed carry without a permit. It also prohibited the university system and the regents from “infringing on constitutional rights.”

“House Bill 102 was an historic expansion of Montanans’ rights and their ability to defend themselves,” said Kyler Nerison, spokesperson for Attorney General Austin Knudsen, whose office defended the state in the case. “The Montana Supreme Court’s decision today relegates university students and employees to second-class citizens, putting their rights and safety at the whims of an unelected governmental body that now has veto power over state laws it disagrees with.”

The seven members of the Board of Regents are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate and serve seven-year overlapping terms.

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