- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 31, 2015

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Nine moderate Republicans and one conservative voted with Montana’s House Democrats on Tuesday to narrowly defeat a proposal that would have allowed concealed weapons on college campuses.

Supporters of the Republican-sponsored bill argued that the Second Amendment protects gun owners’ rights at public universities and that shooting rampages could be ended by a “good guy” with a firearm.

Opponents, however, said more guns on campus would endanger students and that the plan would be unlikely to survive a court challenge.

By a vote of 49-51, representatives rejected Senate Bill 143, although it could be reconsidered Wednesday.

The nine moderate Republicans have broken from their party ranks several times this session to vote with Democrats on issues ranging from campaign finance disclosures to drug testing for welfare recipients.

Among them, GOP Rep. Jeffrey Welborn of Dillon said he voted against the measure at the request of family friends.

Tim Hull was shot and killed by another student outside a dorm at Montana Tech in 1982, and “I don’t have it in me to go back to Dillon and look his parents, Frog and Evelyn, in the eyes and tell them that I voted for this piece of legislation,” Welborn said.

Welborn said he hasn’t heard any students ask for concealed weapons on campuses and that all his constituent mail has been against the proposal.

House Speaker Austin Knudsen, however, said concealed weapons should be allowed in public university buildings based on principle.

“Your constitutional right to defend yourself does not end at a college campus,” the Culbertson Republican said. “It should not end at a college campus.”

Another Republican in favor of the bill, Rep. Nicholas Schwaderer, said there should be no exemptions to fundamental rights.

“If we’re going to fund these public institutions and build these entities and fund them, then they’re also going to have to protect these constitutional rights,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Nate McConnell, meanwhile, said the proposal defies the state constitution and wouldn’t hold up in court.

“We don’t tell the Board of Regents what rules to set because the (Montana) Constitution says we don’t,” McConnell said.

“So we’re spinning our tires a little bit here,” he added.

Democratic Rep. Tom Woods of Bozeman, a professor of molecular biology, said the mental health issues, experimental drug use and high pressure that come with college are all reasons to keep guns off campus.

He went on to say that gun advocacy groups are making an enormous mistake in their attempt to override local control of the issue.

“It’s our students who will be dying as a result of this policy,” Woods said. “And it’s because, I think, we have a very powerful gun lobby using its leverage to get its way.”

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