By: José Niño
After Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte replaced outgoing Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) earlier this month, there is speculation that Montana could become the next Constitutional Carry state.
Simply put, Constitutional Carry is the concept that any lawful individual can carry a firearm, be it concealed or openly, without having to ask the government for permission. One would think that with the Second Amendment as law of the land, such a concept would not have to be reinforced in the present with new legislation. Alas, both the states and the federal government have slipped up when it comes to defending some of America’s first freedoms.
Gianforte will be the first Republican to occupy the governor’s mansion in Montana since 2005. He cruised to victory against Democratic challenger Mike Cooney, winning the vote 54.4 percent to 41.6 percent. At the same time, Bullock was running for the U.S. Senate; he failed to unseat the incumbent Steve Daines, losing that race 53 percent to 47 percent. Montana overperformed many of the “expert” polling and went solidly for Trump by 16 points.
Although Montana is one of the more friendly Second Amendment states in the country, it has had trouble over the years making the leap toward being a Constitutional Carry state. In no small part, this was due to Democrat control of the Governor’s mansion. Dean Weingarten of AmmoLand observed that Democrat governors have vetoed Constitutional Carry on three separate occasions, despite being approved in both chambers of the Montana State Legislature with strong majorities.
Montana has one idiosyncrasy in that Constitutional Carry is technically in effect for most of the state. Namely, in areas outside of towns and city limits. Towns and cities, however, are where people spend most of their time. For the past decade, the Montana political class has not fully addressed this inconsistency. Starting in 2011, Democrat Gov. Bran Schweitzer vetoed Constitutional Carry legislation HB 271. The legislature was not successful in overriding the governor’s veto. Similarly, Democrat Bullock struck down Constitutional Carry bill HB 298 by exercising his veto power. Unsurprisingly, when Constitutional Carry came to his desk again in 2017, Bullock ended up vetoing the bill. In the House of 100 members, Constitutional Carry bill HB 262 received 60 votes, predominantly from Republicans. The bill received 31 positive votes in the 50-member Senate.
After a strong performance in the 2020 elections, Republicans will have 67 members in the House and 31 members in the Senate. Record turnout increased Republican gains in the legislative chamber while also delivering the governorship to the Republican Party. The Second Amendment issue perhaps played a major role in activating Montana voters who were tired of seeing grassroots legislation such as Constitutional Carry being repeatedly vetoed by anti-Second Amendment governors. With these solid majorities in place, Constitutional Carry should likely pass in Montana.
Politics has taught us that there are no givens, though. There are plenty of states with Republican trifectas that have dragged their feet on legislation such as Constitutional Carry. The key to breaking this paralysis is for activists to continue pressing their issues, not just during election season, but also when legislatures convene. This process can be long and tedious, but it’s crucial for any organization that is serious about generating changes in public policy.
One pro-Second Amendment organization that has stood out in its long-term approach to generating political change is the National Association for Gun Rights (NAGR). Christopher Stone, Director of Political Operations for NAGR, gave GPM his take on the prospects for passing Constitutional Carry in Montana:
“NAGR consistently leads in the fight to pass Constitutional Carry all across the United States. We are already working to pass it in Montana in 2021, and we look forward to engaging with our members and Montana legislators in the battle to restore the Second Amendment in Big Sky Country.”
Organizations such as NAGR and other grassroots outfits will play a major role in making Montana the 17th Constitutional Carry state.
José Niño is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. Sign up for his mailing list here. Contact him via Facebook, Twitter, or email him at [email protected]. Get his e-book, The 10 Myths of Gun Control, here.