The national gun debate has nothing on what is poised to be a hotly contested local
Second Amendment battle.
Yes, concealed weapon permit holders are currently allowed to carry their weapons
in city parks, including the River’s Edge Trail, according to our City Attorney Sara
Sexe. Sexe reported at the November 17 city commission meeting that she had
researched Montana Code Annotated references and looked at the history and
intent of the 1997 city commission, before determining that permit holders are
allowed to carry concealed in city parks. She put that opinion on the record at that
meeting and again at the November 21 city commission meeting.
I concluded as much from my research of the Official Code of the City of Great
Falls and the Montana Code Annotated more than two years ago. When I expressed
my finding that it was legal to acquaintances who kept telling me it wasn’t legal,
they vehemently disagreed with me. So I was vindicated when Sexe confirmed
what I had already determined to be true.
I’ll admit that at first glance the city code appears to ban concealed weapons in city
parks. Even the Great Falls Tribune got it wrong on their website. In articles dated
April 7 and November 17, the Tribune featured a video which further perpetuates
the myth that it is illegal to carry firearms, whether open or concealed carry, in city
parks in Great Falls.
Now that the city commissioners are aware of the “loophole” in the city code, it
seems at least two of them would likely push the opposite agenda, which would
make it illegal for permit holders to concealed carry in city parks.
The matter was made public at the October 17 city commission meeting, when a
group of local residents asked the commissioners for clarification of city laws
regarding concealed carry for weapons permit holders in city parks, including the
River’s Edge Trail. Some of the commenters were from the Missouri River Women
Shooters, a local organization that educates and supports women in the proper use
of firearms. Many had heard a variety of interpretations of local law and thought it
best to hear from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Commissioner Burow mentioned that he had heard from some folks recently, who
wanted clarification about the code. Mayor Kelly wanted to have City Attorney
Sara Sexe to do further research on the matter before more discussion took place.
The city code currently reads:
9.8.020 – Prohibiting and suppressing the possession of weapons.
A. The carrying of concealed or unconcealed weapons (MCA 45-2-101 (76), and as
such statute may hereafter be amended) to, on, or at a public assembly, publicly
owned building, park under City jurisdiction, or school is hereby prohibited.
B. Exceptions are as otherwise provided by MCA 45-8-351(2)(b) which allows for
display of firearms at shows or other public occasions by collectors and others,
and MCA 45-8-317 which states what persons are allowed to carry weapons, and
as such statutes may hereafter be amended.
(Ord. 3158, 2017; Ord. 2732, 1997).
The exception refers back to the Montana Code Annotated 45-8-317 which
provides for concealed carry for permit holders, except where prohibited under
What further muddies the water is MCA 45-8-351. It contains contradictory
language that leads off with a subsection restricting local governments from
enacting more restrictive weapons laws, except as provided in a later subsection
which allows them to do so for public safety reasons.
In November 1997, the Great Falls City Commission passed Ordinance 2732. The
commission meeting minutes state:
“The purpose of Ordinance 2732 is to exercise the power given in MCA 45-8-351
by establishing an ordinance prohibiting the carrying of concealed or
unconcealed weapons into a public building or to a public assembly.”
Note that the city commission back in 1997 didn’t include concealed carry in city
parks in their statement of purpose. By also inserting the reference to MCA
45-8-317, it seems their intent was to allow permit holders to carry in city parks.
At the November 7 commission meeting, even more Great Falls residents came
forward to show support for concealed weapons carry in the parks and to get an
official clarification. The fact that folks want to see this more clearly defined and
codified, speaks volumes about the public’s perception and mistrust of the city
commission and city government. A city attorney’s interpretation of the law isn’t
enough for them.
Commissioner Bronson made it clear that he wanted to hear from the opposition.
“It’s true that while we have rights of ownership I was always taught that having
a firearm is also a privilege. It’s a privilege from the standpoint of listening to
what my neighbors and friends have to say about it…
“We have to have a community conversation about this because, quite frankly,
after the presentation three weeks ago, I was approached by some people and
what they told me is they were scared of what they heard here that night. I said,
“Why are you scared. I know a lot of these people, they’re wonderful folks.
They’re no threat to you.” Well, they think you are. They’re afraid of people who
carry guns. And while I don’t share their fear, I understand where they’re
Mayor Kelly also made it clear that he wanted to postpone any action on the issue
until after the newly elected commissioners were seated.
“This conversation is appropriate and it’s timely and is driven by concern and
fear, which is warranted. There’s an opportunity to continue this discussion and
I hope to do that in the new year….
“Anytime you talk about increased gun availability, gun usage, gun issues, it’s an
emotional side. As I said three weeks ago, we’ve heard from one side and we
haven’t heard from the other. There’s time to do that and we will do that. My
goal here is to have a community dialogue about this, perhaps not even in these
chambers, but as a community forum, so that the sides, the different sides of this
issue can look at each other and talk about their fears and their concerns,
because there’s warranted discussion on both sides….I’d also like to give an
opportunity to the two new commissioners who are going to be sitting up here an
opportunity to be in that discussion and to listen to the community and go
forward from there.”
One must wonder if the current commissioners, minus Commission Burow, are
postponing any action until the new year in order to get unanimous support for a
government-knows-best political agenda of further restricting firearms within the
city. Commissioner Burow, who came forward in support of clarifying the current
code, rather than opening it up to more debate, would be gone. By all appearances
the two newly elected commissioners, Mary Moe and Owen Robinson, would
support more local governmental restrictions on gun rights in Great Falls.
Moe’s support of a more liberal agenda leads me to believe that she would vote to
ban concealed carry in our parks. I may be generalizing here but it seems to me
that anyone who wants to remove historic statues in the name of political
correctness is probably miles away from the right-to-bear-arms camp.
Owen Robinson would likely oppose it as well. At the October 17 city commission
meeting, Tammy Evans, organizer of the Missouri River Women Shooters, asked
for a show of hands supporting permit holders to concealed carry in city parks.
Most hands in the room went up. Robinson was at that meeting but his hand stayed
down. A pretty solid indication of the way he’d vote.
I hope they both prove me wrong.
At the November 21 city commission meeting, we heard from some opposition to
concealed carry in parks. The gun paranoia was obvious.
BJ Angermeyer stated she was, “Speaking on behalf of many of my fellow citizens
appalled that the guns may possibly be in our beloved parks and trails.”
In response, Mayor Kelly said, “We’ll have an opportunity to hear from you in
greater length etc. at a meeting we’ll have in the new year.”
Sharon Patton Griffin opined that, “We have a past practice of not allowing
concealed carry in parks.” She went on to claim that should have carry some
weight in the matter.
She stated she had a letter from her husband and then explained why he didn’t
“I tell you quite frankly that he was afraid to come tonight because he said you
know, there’s gonna be some gun nut there that will shoot all of us there that don’t
Someone interrupted and said, “That’s ridiculous.”
I’d have to agree. If you don’t feel safe in a room with members of the Great Falls
Police Department in attendance, guns at the ready, where would you feel safe?
Also, permit holders aren’t allowed to bring weapons into public buildings and
know it. The person more likely to enter a public building or public assembly with
guns blazing will not be a concealed carry permit holder—I think that can be
shown by looking at past incidents.
These scared-of-firearms folks should be more worried about criminals who carry
guns and aren’t going to follow the law, than about law-abiding citizens who
follow the law and exercise their God-given and Second Amendment affirmed
right to carry.
A potential rapist on River’s Edge Trail won’t choose to follow the law and not
carry a weapon, just to break another law—that’s ludicrous. The gun paranoia
folks, by banning concealed carry in city parks and trails, will just create more soft
targets. The Great Falls police can’t accompany ever citizen who wants to walk the
River’s Edge Trail. What’s it going to take for these folks to realize we are better
off with an armed citizenry, instead of a disarmed citizenry unable to defend
against armed thugs?
The debate is on and it looks like it’s not going away as some had hoped.
Interestingly, weapons include more than firearms under Great Falls and Montana
law. For example, knives having a blade 4 inches long or longer are among the
objects defined as weapons by the MCA.
Consider this: if you brought a 4 inch, or longer blade knife to Gibson Park to cut your picnic watermelon this Summer, and you are not a concealed carry permit holder, did you break the law?