By PATRICK HILL/Montana State News

Montana has had a long history of gun culture, going back to the days of the Wild West and even further.  However that culture has always been kept in check by Montana’s Board of Regents and college campuses. The Board of Regents has long held that only certified law enforcement officials be able to carry weapons while on campus grounds.

If state Rep. Cary Smith gets his way, though, that will change. The introduction of House Bill 240 will, among other things, allow for the carrying of concealed weapons on Montana campuses, provided that the carrier has a valid carry permit. The legislation has already passed the House on a 58-31 vote.

Proponents of the bill say that it would allow for greater protection of students and faculty on campuses and that it would further reaffirm the 2008 ruling of D.C. vs. Hellar stating that it was in fact a constitutional right for citizens to carry a concealed weapon.

Smith said, “Mass murders only seem to stop when a good guy shows up with a gun.”

Montana House Bill 240 rings loud and clear with many pro  Second Amendment groups stating, “… purported ‘gun free zones’ are dangerous to the health and safety of citizens because these zones create an unreasonable expectation of government-provided safety in these zones, while that safety cannot be provided or ensured …”

Opponents of the bill say it will invite trouble. Kevin McRae, spokesman for the Montana University System says, “We’ll continue through this legislative process to encourage a do not pass of this bill.”

Currently students are able to transport their cased and locked firearms from their vehicle to safe lockup vaults within the dorms. HB 240 would change that, allowing students and faculty to carry concealed and holstered weapons.

Fears that students and faculty will be able to carry weapons have warranted concerns that places such as footballs games will become impromptu gun shows. Critics even worry that the mix of firearms and alcohol consumed at these sporting events will not mix well.

Says Smith, “Both alcohol and guns have been a part of our culture for a long time and we do not seem to have problems in off campus areas where guns and alcohol are available.”

Critics can take ease though, because Montana state law will still have the ultimate authority and according to the Montana State Department of Justice website, “Even with a concealed weapons permit, you may not carry a concealed weapon in … any place where alcoholic beverages are sold, dispensed and consumed.”

If HB 240 is approved, students and faculty will only be allowed to conceal carry if they have a valid carry permit, otherwise they will have to open carry as pursuant to current Montana law.

Critics of House Bill 240 as well as the Board of Regents agree that putting weapons into the hands of untrained shooters is a dangerous situation.  Montana is a “shall issue” state, meaning that if a citizen requests the carry permit and passes the background checks and training, the state is required to give that person a carry permit. The state requires an extensive background check and application process, as well as references and fingerprinting of the applicant. Proponents of concealed carry say this is sufficient.

With House Bill 240 already having a winning vote in the House of Representatives it now rests with the state Senate members to decide its fate. With the overwhelming majority of support that it has received thus far, it appears to have more than a fair chance.