The Montana Legislature held its first hearing on a bill that allows gun owners in the state to carry concealed firearms for self-defense, including on college campuses.

Introduced by Joliet Republican, Seth Berglee, the bill would designate places where people in Montana can carry firearms and areas in which there are exceptions.

Republicans are hopeful that the bill will be signed into law this year. “If everybody knows college campuses are gun-free zones, then that’s just an open target” Republican Barry Usher argued during the hearing on Wednesday, adding that the latest measure would make the state safer by doing away with “gun-free zones.”

If the bill is approved, Montana would join states such as Colorado and Utah that permit concealed weapons to be carried at public colleges.

Provisions of the Bill 

The bill prohibits the Montana Board of Regents, the state university system, from prohibiting concealed firearms on college campuses. 

Additionally, students would no longer need a permit to possess a firearm in a dormitory or carry one at events where alcohol is consumed. However, guns not in immediate possession of the permit holder would need to be locked.

The bill also seeks to expand the number of places where firearms are allowed for permit holders, including banks and the Capitol.

‘Bill Wasn’t Necessary’

Although a similar guns-on-campus proposal didn’t make the cut in the state legislature in 2015, this time the bill received large scale support from gun rights advocates and state law enforcement officials.

Despite multiple incidents of gun violence on campuses in recent years provoking students to favor stricter gun laws, Berglee defended the bill by saying that students shouldn’t sacrifice one of their fundamental constitutional rights — the right to own and carry a firearm — when they return to campus.

Opponents however are not convinced. One of them, the Montana Board of Regents, said the move would jeopardize safety on campus and would risk increasing the state’s already steep suicide rate.

Kevin McRae, deputy commissioner of higher education, argued states that have allowed guns on campus have had to enforce more restrictions on campus, showing the bill isn’t necessary.

What About Other States?

After the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech and another in 2008 at Northern Illinois University, the American Legislative Exchange Council adopted a bill to allow guns on college campuses. The push has accelerated — snowballing into a movement — so much so that 10 states now permit concealed weapons on campus in some form. 

However, several states that passed legislation to allow guns on campus are also struggling to deal with the consequences, including lawsuits and hefty costs.

In 2006, the Utah Supreme Court struck down a gun ban at the University of Utah, stating the university’s decision ran counter to state law. More recently, in Texas, a guns-on-campus bill that passed in 2015 has forced intimidated faculty members to abandon their positions while Florida’s community colleges estimated they would need nearly $74 million to prepare for the state’s gun policy.