As city commissioners in Great Falls, we give public safety top priority. If our residents can’t feel safe at our city’s parks, parades, or schools, not much else we do matters. To keep our city safe, our commission must able to address the potential for violence in ways that make sense for Great Falls. Other city commissions across Montana deserve the same ability.
Rep. Regier’s HB 325, and his companion referendum bill, HB 357, purport to eliminate “patchwork” approaches to firearms regulations. What both really do is prevent local governments from continuing proven public safety measures and partnerships that are tailored to each community’s unique resources and needs.
Montana has a long history of responsible gun ownership. We also have a long history of respecting local government, recognizing that the government closest to the people is best positioned to respond to local circumstances. The proposed legislation strips local governments of the authority to prevent people from carrying guns at public demonstrations, as well as preventing any regulation of firearms in parks or other outdoor public spaces, even if there is alcohol present or some other public safety risk.
Most of us have seen public demonstrations where tensions run high. Imagine adding openly carried firearms to the equation. In a smaller Montana community, where everyone knows everyone else, that might not be a problem. But in larger communities with larger crowds, more transient populations and volatile issues, open carry can make people feel threatened, and that can make people get aggressive. Only local officials can assess local situations and current risks and respond case by case with appropriate regulations.
Add to that concern the fact that we allow alcohol at many gatherings in our public spaces. Hopefully, a public demonstration or a few too many beers at a concert will never lead to gun violence. But if it does, our law enforcement officials need to be able to respond without any doubt as to who the perpetrator of the violence is.
HB 325 also intrudes on the effective partnership our local government has with our school district. For over 20 years, the City of Great Falls has partnered with the Great Falls Public Schools to provide School Resource Officers in our schools. Although that puts a strain on both partners’ budgets, we do it because the safety of our children is paramount.
HB 325 would allow individuals with no law enforcement training to be armed in our schools without the authorization or even the knowledge of either the school district or local law enforcement. Fans could come armed to school sporting events. Again, arming a teacher or principal might make sense in a rural school where law enforcement officers aren’t readily available. But when local police are available, as they are in Great Falls, they must be in the lead and in the know in a school shooting incident, coordinating a response that reflects training and planning.
Local citizens know what they want when it comes to public safety, and they’re not shy about expressing themselves. Local governments respond accordingly. Please tell your state senator to vote NO on HB 325 and 357. Local circumstances require a local response.
The Great Falls City Commission
Bob Kelly, Mayor
Bill Bronson, Mayor Pro Tem
Tracy Houck, Commissioner
Mary Sheehy Moe, Commissioner
Owen Robinson, Commissioner