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Montana's Governor Says Conceal-Carry Law Bolsters Self-Defense Rights

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

College students in Montana will soon be able to carry concealed firearms on campus without a permit. Yellowstone Public Radio's Kevin Trevellyan reports.

KEVIN TREVELLYAN, BYLINE: Montana State University senior Chance Kind is on his way out the door of his Bozeman apartment.

CHAD KIND: Keys, wallet, phone. Double-checking my knife. Pens, my pencils. Got my Glock.

TREVELLYAN: As is the case most times Kind is in public, he's carrying a concealed Glock 19 pistol in his jeans. It's practically muscle memory for the 22-year-old to grab heading out the door, even just to get some groceries.

KIND: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Have a good one.

KIND: Yeah, you as well.

TREVELLYAN: But one place he can't carry a concealed gun - his college campus, at least until June 1, when the new law goes into effect at state universities. A third-generation Montanan from a farm and ranch area, Kind grew up around guns. After shopping for groceries, he breaks down and brushes his pistol.

KIND: Oh, looks like we're actually pretty clean.

TREVELLYAN: Students who carry on campus will need to finish a hunter's education or basic gun safety course. Kind says he's practiced drawing his pistol in front of his bathroom mirror, something he hasn't had to do for real after carrying for 2 1/2 years.

KIND: And I thank God every day for that.

TREVELLYAN: Kind says his father, a former sheriff's deputy, taught him to take care of himself and others, to be the first line of defense in case there's an active shooter situation, for example.

KIND: You are the hidden protector. You're not looking for a fight, but you're willing to finish it.

TREVELLYAN: Montana's new governor, Greg Gianforte, is a friend to gun rights advocates. As the state's first Republican executive in 16 years, he's starting to enact long-held conservative priorities.

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GREG GIANFORTE: The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

TREVELLYAN: During a bill signing ceremony last week, Gianforte railed against gun control measures recently proposed by President Joe Biden and said the new concealed-carry law bolsters self-defense rights. The Montana University System and most Democratic state lawmakers oppose the bill, fearing it could lead to accidents and more students harming themselves on campus. Montana has the nation's third-highest suicide rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have consistently found that suicide risk increases with access to guns.

DAISY KHOURY: So this is, like, the main lobby area, where a lot of people like to hang out and do homework.

TREVELLYAN: The new law worries MSU freshman and dorm resident Daisy Khoury, who's loving her college experience. But...

KHOURY: Just the thought of someone having a gun in the dining hall, when I'm just trying to eat a sandwich in the morning - that's scary if there's a dispute.

TREVELLYAN: She says she won't feel safe next fall knowing students may have guns in the library or one of her philosophy classes.

KHOURY: There are signs on the front door that say, no nicotine, no tobacco. But you're allowing 18-year-olds to have guns, who are drinking on the weekends and are living with a bunch of people? It's totally crazy to me.

TREVELLYAN: Khoury says hearing about the concealed-carry bill unearthed trauma from her childhood in Colorado. At age 13, she says she was playing Jenga alone with a friend when he took his own life with a handgun in front of her. Now Khoury says she's considering transferring from MSU.

She's hopeful the Montana University System will challenge the new law in court, but Deputy Commissioner Kevin McRae thinks that's unlikely. Instead, he says the Board of Regents will probably implement the law with an eye toward the 10 states that currently allow students to carry guns on campus.

KEVIN MCRAE: But even the areas that we look to for best practices, there are different nuances that keep this sort of uncharted water and new.

TREVELLYAN: For example, McRae says Montana will be the only state to allow 18-year-olds to carry guns in dorms.

For NPR News, I'm Kevin Trevellyan in Helena.

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INSKEEP: If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day. There's a phone number. Here it is - 800-273-8255.

(SOUNDBITE OF FAODAIL'S "GAEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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