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Montana Gun Control Laws

Finding consensus on gun control laws in Congress and state legislatures remains a major challenge in the U.S. On the one hand, the U.S. Constitution and most state constitutions protect citizens' right to bear arms. On the other, gun violence disrupts communities daily. 

In 2023, the Gun Violence Archive reports there were 656 mass shootings in America. It defines a mass shooting as an incident where four or more persons are killed or injured, not including the shooter.

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides a check on both state and federal gun laws. Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court support an individual right for gun owners to possess firearms for self-defense and other purposes. Still, the right to own guns is not absolute and remains subject to reasonable regulations consistent with U.S. history and tradition.

The federal government provides limited regulations on firearms. These include mandated registration of certain dangerous weapons and a licensing framework for firearms dealers and manufacturers. Federal law provides categories of persons who cannot possess firearms, such as convicted felons. Federal firearms dealers must refer each purchase for criminal background checks. This helps prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.

More detailed regulations on who can purchase, sell, own, possess, and carry firearms fall under state law. As such, gun control laws vary from one state to another.

Montana Gun Control Laws

A recent study concluded that Montana residents own the most guns per capita in the U.S. In contrast to being one of the largest states by land mass, Montana has just over one million residents. The estimate is that 65% of Montana's households contain a gun, so it's not surprising that Montana gun control laws are some of the most permissive in the country. A Montana resident doesn't need to get a gun license, register their guns or get a permit to purchase or possess firearms.

Montana law does not require a waiting period on purchases of firearms. The state does not ban assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. The state of Montana provides no specific regulations focused on carrying firearms in motor vehicles. Its public safety efforts focus more on prohibiting possession by those with certain felony convictions and providing penalties for crimes that involve the use of a firearm.

In 2021, Montana became a permitless carry state. This means that a person who can legally possess a firearm can also carry a concealed firearm in public without first passing a background check. As occurs with other states, Montana still provides a regular concealed carry permit and an enhanced concealed carry permit. 

Permit holders may qualify as eligible for reciprocity to carry under the firearms laws of other states. Having a state permit can also bypass a background check each time you go to purchase a new firearm.

To obtain a regular or enhanced Montana permit, complete an application with your local sheriff's office. Montana is a "shall issue" state for concealed handgun permits. If an applicant meets all the eligibility criteria and passes a background check, then the county sheriff must issue the permit. Eligibility information appears on the Montana Department of Justice website and in the chart below. 

The Montana Attorney General also provides a list of states whose permits are recognized by Montana. Nonresidents can carry concealed weapons if their state's permit requires a background check before its issuance and they have both the permit and a photo ID on their person. Qualified law enforcement officers can also carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

While Montana allows both concealed and open carry of firearms in public, there are certain location restrictions that gun owners need to know. In most situations, you cannot possess or carry a firearm in these places:

  • School buildings as determined by the school board
  • Courtrooms and areas of a courthouse as determined by order of a judge or court
  • Portions of buildings used for state or local government offices that have been restricted (exception for state concealed weapon permit holders)
  • Secure treatment facilities of the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Correctional, detention, and treatment facilities operated by the Department of Corrections
  • Detention facilities or secure areas of a local law enforcement agency of a city or county
  • At or beyond the security screening checkpoint in a public, commercial airport
  • Federal buildings
  • Military reservations on and operated by the U.S.
  • Private property where the owner or person in control expressly prohibits firearms
  • Universities and college campuses as determined by the board of regents, as per the 2022 Montana Supreme Court case Board of Regents of High Education v. Knudsen

Overview of Montana Gun Control Laws

The basics of Montana's gun laws are listed below, along with helpful legal clarifications:

Relevant Montana Gun Laws (Statutes)

Montana Code, Title 45, Sections 45-8-301 through 45-8-361

Illegal Arms

With limited exceptions, it is illegal to own or possess:

  • Sawed-off rifle
  • Sawed-off shotgun

Waiting Period

Montana does not have a waiting period to buy a gun.

Who May Not Own

A person may not possess a firearm who:

  • Has been convicted of a felony where the person received an additional sentence for use, display, or brandishing of a dangerous weapon but not where use of the weapon was an element of the crime itself
  • Has been convicted of an offense under U.S. law or another state's law that is equivalent to a Montana felony where the person received an additional sentence for use, display, or brandishing of a dangerous weapon but not where the use of the weapon was an element of the crime itself
  • Has been convicted of a felony for which the person is currently required to register as a sex offender or a violent offender
  • Is otherwise prohibited under federal law

License Required?

Montana does not require a license to buy or own a gun.

Concealed Carry License Required?

Montana does not require a license to carry a concealed weapon. Anyone who can legally possess a firearm may carry a concealed weapon in public. The permitting process is optional.

Open Carried Allowed?

Open carry is permitted in Montana. No license is required to open carry.

Eligibility for a Concealed Carry License

Montanans who are not prohibited under federal or state law from possessing a firearm can carry a concealed firearm without a state permit. The state continues to offer a regular and an enhanced permit for reciprocity in other states and other reasons. An applicant for a regular permit to carry a concealed weapon must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or permanent lawful resident
  • Be 18 years of age or older and hold a valid Montana driver's license or other form of photo identification issued by the state
  • Have been a resident of Montana for at least six months
  • Not be ineligible under Montana or federal law to own, possess, or receive a firearm
  • Not be charged and awaiting judgment in any state of a state or federal crime that is punishable by incarceration for one year or more
  • Not have been convicted in any state or federal court of a crime punishable by more than one year of incarceration or a crime that includes as an element of the crime an act, attempted act, or threat of intentional homicide, serious bodily harm, unlawful restraint, sexual abuse, or sexual intercourse or contact without consent
  • Not have been convicted of carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence or carrying a concealed weapon in a prohibited place, unless the applicant has been pardoned or five years have elapsed since the date of the conviction
  • Not have a warrant out for the applicant's arrest
  • Not have been adjudicated to be an unlawful user of an intoxicating substance and is not under a court order of imprisonment or other incarceration, probation, suspended or deferred imposition of sentence, treatment or education, or other conditions of release
  • Not have been adjudicated in a criminal or civil proceeding in any state or federal court to be mentally ill, mentally disordered, or mentally disabled and is still subject to a disposition order of that court
  • Not have been dishonorably discharged from the United States armed forces
  • Demonstrate familiarity with a firearm by completing an approved firearm safety or training course
An applicant for an enhanced concealed carry permit must meet these same requirements and must be at least 21 years old. They must also submit fingerprints and proof of firearm training that includes live-fire exercises of at least 98 rounds of ammunition.

Machine Gun Laws

It is not a crime to possess a machine gun under Montana law. However, federal laws may apply. Montana criminalizes possession or use of a machine gun in a crime or for an aggressive or offensive purpose.

Penalties for Illegal Firearm Possession

Montana's penalties for illegal firearm possession depend on the crime. The following are penalties for specific offenses:

  • Possession or use of a machine gun in connection with a violent crime is a felony, punishable by 20 years in prison.
  • Possession or use of a machine gun for an offensive purpose is a felony, punishable by 10 years in prison.
  • Unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted person is a felony, punishable by two to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $50,000, or both.
  • Unlawful carrying of a concealed firearm is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.
  • Carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence or in a prohibited place is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.
  • Possession of a silencer for use in a criminal offense is a felony, punishable by five to 30 years, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.
  • Possession of a sawed-off firearm is a misdemeanor, punishable by five days to six months in jail, a fine of $200 to $500, or both. A second or subsequent offense (or possessing a sawed-off firearm after having been convicted of a felony) is punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Penalties for Illegal Possession on or Near School Grounds

Illegal possession of a firearm on school property is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.

Red Flag Law?

No. In 2023, Montana legislators tabled a bill proposing a red flag law. This prevented the bill from moving forward for debate and a vote.

Universal Background Checks?

No. Montana does not require a background check for firearms transactions that occur between private individuals.

Stand Your Ground Law?

Yes. A person who is not the aggressor can use sufficient force, including deadly force, in self-defense to an attack. If they are lawfully in a place or location, they need not first retreat or summon law enforcement assistance.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.

Research the Law:

Montana Gun Control Laws: Related Resources

Charged With a Gun Crime in Montana?

Navigating the differences in state and federal gun laws can be a challenge. In Montana, you may also want to know the laws in neighboring states like Idaho, Wyoming, North Dakota, and South Dakota. If you have concerns about your rights as a gun owner, it makes sense to seek legal advice. If you face state or federal gun charges, find a qualified attorney through our directory who can help you with your defense.

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