HELENA – Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock on Friday vetoed a pair of Republican-sponsored gun rights bills, including one that would allow almost any adult to carry a concealed weapon in Montana without a permit.
“While I will fiercely defend the 2nd Amendment rights of our citizens, I cannot support an absurd concept that threatens the safety of our communities by not providing for the basic fundamentals of gun safety or mental health screening,” he wrote in his veto message on House Bill 298.
Bullock also vetoed HB203, which would prohibit any state or local officials in Montana from enforcing any future federal restrictions on gun or weapon magazine ownership.
The bills are among nearly a dozen gun rights bills being advanced at the 2015 Legislature, mostly by Republicans.
HB203 and HB298 passed the Legislature on largely party-line votes, with Democrats opposed, making any veto override unlikely. It takes two-thirds of both the Senate and House to override a veto, and Republicans do not control a two-thirds majority in either body.
Rep. Art Wittich, R-Bozeman, the sponsor of HB203, said Friday he’s disappointed with the governor’s veto.
“I think Montanans are at greater risk of federal overreach on their gun rights,” he said. “It seems like every day you hear about another effort by Congress and President (Barack) Obama to restrict gun rights and ammunition. This would have been a common-sense approach to protect Montanans.”
Bullock noted that he vetoed a similar bill in 2013 and said he vetoed it again for the same reasons. The bill “puts law enforcement officers in the position of violating laws they have sworn to uphold,” he said.
HB298, sponsored by Rep. Bill Harris, R-Winnett, said anyone eligible to carry a gun in Montana can carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Under current law, Montana cities can require concealed weapon permits, which must be approved by local sheriffs.
Bullock said if the logic of HB298 were applied to other licenses or permits, there would be no need for driver’s licenses or airplane pilot licenses, and citizens could simply decide themselves they are “eligible” to drive or fly a plane.
He also said HB298 would void the state’s reciprocity agreements with more than 40 other states that recognize concealed weapon permits issued in Montana, allowing Montanans to carry concealed weapons there, and void laws allowing Montana permit holders to bypass federal background checks required to buy a firearm.
Harris called Bullock’s comments “meaningless rhetoric,” and said concealed weapon permits give people a “false sense of security.” He also said with the increased threat of terrorism and recent mass shootings, it might be better if more members of the public could be armed to act in their defense.