An amendment to remove the authority of local governments to regulate the carrying of concealed weapons will appear on the 2020 ballot in Montana. The measure was designed to be sent to voters if an identical bill, House Bill 325, was vetoed by Democratic Governor Steve Bullock. Bullock vetoed HB 325 on May 3, 2019.
To override the governor’s veto in Montana, a two-thirds vote in each chamber (67 votes in the House and 34 votes in the Senate) would be required. The concealed carry bill was approved by 56 percent majorities in both chambers of the legislature. Proposed changes to statute that are referred by the legislature to the voters do not require the governor’s signature and cannot be vetoed.
The measure’s text states that its purpose is “to secure the right to keep and bear arms and to prevent a patchwork of restrictions by local governments across the state.” The measure would state that it is the policy of Montana “that the citizens of the state should be aware of, understand, and comply with any restrictions on the right to keep or bear arms… and to minimize confusion the legislature withholds from local governments the power to restrict or regulate the possession of firearms.”
The governor explained his veto, writing, “Montana law already contains strong protections that totally prohibit localities from restricting our basic right to keep and bear arms. House Bill 325 does something else, eliminating local control over whether the mentally ill may bring guns into schools, or whether a local government can permit concealed weapons. These are decisions that Montanans have long entrusted to their local governments. I see no reason to reassign that power to decision-makers in Helena.”
Gary Marbut, President of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, which supports the measure, said, “Bullock is effectively arguing that a felon who would disregard committing another federal felony and disregard a state law prohibiting guns in schools would be deterred from bringing guns into schools if only local governments are allowed to enact an ordinance for a local misdemeanor prohibiting that conduct. Right, as if felons spend their time first reading and then complying with local ordinances.”
Also on Montana’s 2020 ballot are two measures that would amend constitutional language regarding initiative signature requirements to match what is currently enforced due to case law and an attorney general opinion.
Citizens in Montana may initiate constitutional amendments, state statutes, and veto referendums through citizen signature petitions. So far, there are no citizen initiatives circulating.
From 1996 through 2018, an average of between four and five measures appeared on the ballot during even-numbered years in Montana. Between 1996 and 2018, about 61.67 percent (37 of 60) of the total number of measures that appeared on statewide ballots were approved, and about 38.33 percent (23 of 60) were defeated.