Bill offering leniency for guns at Montana schools stopped

HELENA, Mont. (AP) – A House committee stopped a bill Friday to
make allowances for bringing guns on school grounds, as concerns
over guns at schools trumped worries that students were being
treated too harshly for leaving hunting rifles in their cars.

House Bill 558, which was tabled in committee, would have no
longer made it a requirement to expel a student who brings a gun to
school and proposed that guns locked in a vehicle on school grounds
do not qualify as a violation.

Republican Rep. Jerry O’Neil of Columbia Falls who sponsored the
bill said the measure was about fixing broken Montana gun laws.

The bill follows outcry over the suspension of Demari DeReu a
Columbia Falls High School student, after she brought an unloaded
rifle to school in the trunk of her car in December. Some people at
the time argued that giving leeway for guns on school grounds makes
sense for many Montanans’ outdoor lifestyles. Those in opposition
say there are some places where guns just don’t belong, especially
schools.

Speaking Friday, DeReu asked legislators to change the school
policy so students wouldn’t be subject to the same difficulties
from school hearings and suspensions that she endured. The
cheerleader said she is still taunted to this day over the
incident.

“I would not want anyone ever to go through what I have to go
through,” DeReu said.

Other supporters of the legislation said the current system
doesn’t allow enough discretion for school boards to decide how to
punish students and the expulsion is an unfair mark on the
student’s permanent record.

Those opposing the measure said the school already has enough
control to offer students leniency. They also argued the measure
may violate federal law.

“I fear that if this bill passes all of our school districts
and our state will jeopardize receiving federal funds,” said Debra
Silk of the Montana School Board Association.

Other opponents said guns don’t belong in some urban
environments and the loosened regulations could be abused by gang
members.

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