How a New York newspaper may affect Montana’s concealed carry laws

Jan Anderson of the Boulder Monitor speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday

Jan Anderson of the Boulder Monitor speaks before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday

When a suburban New York newspaper, The Journal News published the names and addresses of concealed carry gun permit holders in two NY counties in December, gun rights advocates were enraged. NRA President David Keene called it “an incredibly irresponsible… attempt by the elite to demonize people who own firearms legitimately,” according to POLITICO.

Journal News Publisher Janet Hasson said, “In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, (we) thought the community should know where gun permit holders in their community were, in part to give parents an opportunity to make careful decisions about their children’s safety.” The newspaper has since removed the listing due to a new law passed in New York which provides increased privacy protections to gun permit owners.

Montana lawmakers are now working on similar legislation. On Wednesday, Senator Eric Moore (R-Miles City) spoke on his SB 145 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He cited reports of permit holders being harassed after their information was published in The Journal News. “Let’s be proactive,” Moore told the committee, “and avoid this situation in Montana by protecting the privacy and safety of our law abiding citizens who choose to obtain a concealed carry permit.”

The Montana Department of Justice says over 30-thousand concealed carry permit holders live in the state, as of mid-December.

The bill would make the information one has to fill in for a concealed carry permit confidential information for use only by the local sheriff, who decides on the distribution of the permits. This information, including “name, address, physical description, signature, driver’s license number…and a picture of the permittee,” is currently public record.

Bill supporter Montana Shooting Sports Association Lobbyist Doug Nulle, said this information being public can subject a concealed carry applicant to “a wide variety of crimes,” and said that can be a particular concern for “retired law enforcement officers, private investigators…stalking victims and victims of domestic violence.”

Boulder Monitor Publisher and Editor Jan Anderson argued against the bill. “There are legitimate reasons the public is entitled to certain information and indeed there are valid reasons in this situation,” she said, suggesting someone feeling threatened should be able to check if the person threatening them has a concealed weapons permit.

The Montana Newspaper Association also opposed it, arguing instead for emphasis on another bill, SB 37, which makes much of the same information confidential, but keeps the concealed carry applicant’s name and address on public record.

No action was taken on the bill Wednesday.

Bullock/MT Delegation support bill validating concealed carry permits across state lines

Montana Attorney General Steve Bullock is supporting a bill before the US Senate which validates concealed weapons permits across state lines. Bullock recently signed a letter supporting the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act along with 21 other state Attorney’s General. Montanans would follow Montana laws on concealed carry in other states. That also means carriers from other states would follow their laws in Montana.

Bullock says the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act recognizes all Montanans have a fundamental right to self-defense.  He says that right shouldn’t disappear just because a Montanan crosses the border into another state making “sure that Montanan’s with their concealed carry permit can go into the other state’s carrying their firearm.”

The national non-profit Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence opposes the legislation.

Vice President Dennis Henigan makes it a state’s rights argument. He calls it outrageous for a state Attorney General to stand behind it.

“This is a piece of federal legislation that would make Montana’s laws concerning concealed carry unenforceable,” he said.

To get a concealed carry permit in Montana you have to show evidence of some kind of training—like a hunter safety course. You need to undergo a criminal background check, too. The state denies permits to those convicted of certain crimes. Henigan argues other states may have less strict requirements.

“I would think that the Attorney General’s first responsibility would not be to the concealed carry holders in Montana that might want to travel to other states,” he said, “but rather to the residents of Montana whether they are gun owners or not, whether they are concealed carry holders or not, who have an interest in preserving Montana’s laws.”

Attorney General Bullock says yes, other states might have looser requirements for concealed carry. However, Montana already accepts those permits.

“For out of state carriers coming in, as long as they’ve had that background check, we would recognize it anyway,” Bullock said.

So Montana supporters of this National Right to Carry Act say it can’t encroach on our state sovereignty because our state law already allows it.

On the Department of Justice website, it says, “Non-residents must meet the following criteria to carry a concealed weapon in Montana:

  1. The state that issued the permit must require a criminal records background check before issue.
  2. The permit must be in the holder’s possession.
  3. The permit holder must have a photo ID

There are six states, plus the District of Columbia, that do not expressly require background checks for concealed carry permits. Permits from those states are not valid here.

Would they be if the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act passes? Well, yes, but here’s the deal– in order to comply with that act, the carrier has to comply with federal gun law. Federal gun law requires a background check.

“Under Federal Law, to buy, possess or transfer firearms there’s certain requirements,” Bullock said. “You know, you can’t have a felony conviction of over a year and certain numerated crimes. Those are the same that we check for our backgrounds as well.”

The National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act passed the U.S. House last November by a 272 to 154 vote. A version now waits for action in the Senate.

Montana’s full congressional delegation supports the bill.