County approves changes to weapons ordinance, effective in 30 days

Cascade County Commissioners voted unanimously during their Jan. 26 meeting to accept changes to the ordinance regarding weapons within Cascade County for a second reading.

The changes will become effective in 30 days.

On the November ballot, voters statewide approved LR-130, limiting the authority of local governments to restrict the carrying of firearms.

County modifies rules regarding carrying of weapons after voters approve ballot initiative

The new law went into effect Jan. 1, 2021, but many local governments have to update their own regulations to comply with the new state law.

Under the new law, as approved by voters, some of the county’s regulations cannot be enforced, according to Carey Ann Haight, chief of the civil division of the county attorney’s office.

“We have no choice and we’re acting as promptly as we can,” Haight told commissioners during their Dec. 22 meeting.

LR-130 removes a local government’s ability to “regulate the carrying of permitted concealed weapons or to restrict the carrying of unconcealed firearms except in publicly owned and occupied buildings under the local government unit’s jurisdiction. It repeals a local government unit’s authority to prevent or suppress the possession of firearms by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens, and minors although federal and other state firearm restrictions remain unchanged, including for these individuals,” according to Haight’s staff report.

The revised weapons ordinance, as approved by county commissioners, supersedes and replaces the previous regulations, which had prohibited “the carrying of concealed and unconcealed weapons to, at or on the following places and premises: a) any public assembly located within Cascade County, including but not limited to local judicial proceedings; b) any park under the jurisdiction of Cascade County; and c) any school within Cascade County.”

The county’s regulations still prohibit the carrying of any unpermitted concealed or unconcealed weapon at any publicly owned and occupied building under Cascade County jurisdiction, including but not limited to the Cascade County Courthouse, Cascade County Courthouse Annex, Executive Plaza, Health Department and ExpoPark facilities.

Commissioner Joe Briggs said that there are still federal laws regarding weapons near schools and Sheriff Jesse Slaughter said school boards have the right to regulate weapons in schools.

Great Falls Public Schools Superintendent Tom Moore said that at this point, schools fall under federal law, which prohibits guns in school buildings for the most part, and board policy, which is reviewed annually, prohibits weapons on school properties.

Moore said he doesn’t foresee LR-130 changing the rules for school properties, but is consulting with the county attorney’s office, board members and GFPS officials, as well as the Montana School Board Association’s attorneys for advice.

The City of Great Falls also regulates weapons within the city limits and the City Commission has not yet taken any action regarding changes to those rules under LR-130.

City Manager Greg Doyon said staff acknowledges that it will have to look at changes, but there’s some thought to waiting to see if there are any legislative changes on the issue, and others, before making any proposals to the commission.