Montana voters blocked localities from instituting their own gun restrictions on Tuesday despite a massive spending campaign by gun-control advocates.
The referendum, which passed with 51 percent support, bars localities from exercising "any power that applies to or affects the right to keep or bear arms." Cities, counties, and other local authorities will no longer be able to regulate where Montanans with state permits can concealed-carry their firearms, restrict people from owning guns beyond what state or federal law says, or limit where they can openly carry firearms outside of government buildings.
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The referendum is identical to legislation that Gov. Steve Bullock (D.) vetoed in 2019. Everytown for Gun Safety and other gun-control groups spent more than $1.4 million trying to defeat the measure—27 times more than the NRA spent to support it.
Gary Marbut, president of the Montana Shooting Sports Association, said grassroots support was key to the victory by pro-gun advocates.
"As Duke Nukem said, ‘It's time to kick ass or chew bubblegum, and I'm all out of bubblegum,'" Marbut said in a message to supporters after the results came in. "MSSA and its grassroots activists simply ran out of bubblegum (and tolerance for gun control)."
The results could help explain why Bullock lost his Senate bid to Republican Steve Daines by roughly 10 percent.
Bullock vetoed previous attempts to rein in local regulators at the urging of Everytown. He called the legislation a "dramatic [departure] from Montana history," echoing gun-control activists. Everytown labeled the policy "dangerous" and urged voters to reject the proposal at the ballot box.
The NRA said the referendum fixes a gap in state authority to ensure there is not a "confusing patchwork" of local gun laws.
"Reflecting the state’s overwhelming respect for the Second Amendment, Montana’s gun laws generally respect gun ownership and the Right-to-Carry for self-defense," the gun-rights group told supporters. "However, a deficiency in the state’s firearms preemption statute has permitted politically motivated local governments to undermine the Second Amendment by creating a confusing patchwork of laws that places well-meaning gun owners in legal peril simply for exercising their Right-to-Carry."
The referendum will go into effect on January 1, 2021. At that point, localities will no longer be able to enforce policies that conflict with state and federal laws.