Despite Amending The Bill, Montana Democrats Still Oppose Pro-Second Amendment Referendum

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Apr 01, 2015 6:30 PM
Despite Amending The Bill, Montana Democrats Still Oppose Pro-Second Amendment Referendum

Any ardent supporter of the Second Amendment will surely like what’s being considered for a referendum in Montana. If a resident feels his, or her, right to bear arms has been burdened, this individual can file a lawsuit against the state. Here’s the Gun Owners Access to Justice Act:

Section 2. Definitions. As used in [sections 1 through 3], the following definitions apply:

(1) "Burden" means to directly or indirectly constrain, inhibit, curtail, or deny a person's right to bear arms or to compel any action contrary to a person's right to bear arms. It includes but is not limited to withholding benefits, excluding the person from governmental programs, and assessing criminal, civil, or administrative penalties.

(2) "Compelling state interest" means a governmental interest of the highest magnitude that cannot otherwise be achieved without burdening a person's right to bear arms.

(3) "Person" means an individual, association, partnership, corporation, estate, trust, foundation, or other legal entity.

(4) "Right to bear arms" means the right defined by Article II, section 12, of the Montana constitution.

(5) "State" means the state of Montana or any political subdivision or local government, municipality, or instrumentality of the state as well as any person acting under color of state law.

Section 3. Right to bear arms protected. (1) The state may not burden a person's right to bear arms unless it proves that burdening the person's right to bear arms furthers a compelling state interest and is the least restrictive means to further that interest.

(2) A person whose right to bear arms has been burdened, or is likely to be burdened, in violation of subsection (1) may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense ONLY AGAINST THE STATE in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or one of its political subdivisions is a party to the proceeding. The person asserting the claim or defense may obtain appropriate relief, including but not limited to injunctive relief, declaratory relief, and compensatory damages.

The last part was amended on March 20 so that only government actions could result in a lawsuit under the law, exempting private enterprise, according to Watchdog Arena. Some companies, like NorthWestern Energy, lobbied for the bill to be changed because they felt it could impact their weapons free work environment:

NorthWestern Energy, a publicly regulated firm and Montana’s largest electric and gas utility company, oppose the bill on the grounds that it would make it difficult for them to keep their workplaces free of weapons, according to a Fox News report. Montana Shooting Sports Association President Gary Marbut, in the other corner, has been an outspoken proponent of the bill, among several gun bills facing the 2015 Legislature, and questions NorthWestern’s motives.

“NorthWestern is opposing a bill that has nothing to do with their corporate mission delivering electricity to its customers,” Marbut told Fox. Marbut claimed NorthWestern’s lobbying efforts seem to be in conflict with the ratepayers they supply, most of whom are gun owners and hunters.

On March 13, NorthWestern chief lobbyist John Fitzpatrick, joined in opposition by a Michael Bloomberg-funded gun control group, testified in front of the Judiciary Committee that the bill would not prevent lawsuits against the utility or schools that forbid guns.

NorthWestern later explained on their website that to the utility’s knowledge “Michael Bloomberg does not have financial interest in the company.” They also stated that all lobbying expenses are borne by their shareholders, not ratepayers, according to Fox.

If HB 598 passes the House, it will advance to the Senate, and appear on the 2016 Election day ballot if it receives legislative approval.

Democrats remain opposed to this bill and the slew of pro-gun bills facing the Legislature. They claim that the state’s gun laws are already strong and that they haven’t heard any complaints, so no change is needed.

Indeed, Montana does have solid laws that protect Second Amendment freedoms, with more bills expanding gun rights heading to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk. One of them expands carry rights. Right now, Montana is a peculiar state that requires a permit to carry a concealed handgun, but only within the city limits. Outside those limits, a permit is not required, making the state almost quasi-constitutional carry.