Editor’s note: The following story was written by a student in John B.

Saul’s graduate reporting class at The University of Montana. You are free to share or publish this story, provided you retain the reporter’s byline.

BY ADRIENNE BARNETT A local gun group is taking aim at the renewal of the 6-Mill Levy after years of voter approval in Montana. Speaking out against the levy is the Montana Shooting Sport Association. It launched a campaign called “Send a Message,” opposing the renewal of the measure. “MSSA opposes the 6-Mill Levy to ‘send a message’ to the Board of Regents that disarmed victim zones (university campuses) are dangerous places and don't make anyone safer,” said Gary Marbut, association president. Money from this levy goes to Montana’s five colleges of technology and four-year colleges. The current 6-Mill Levy expires January 2009, and if renewed, would last another decade until January 1, 2019, according to the Montana Voter Information Pamphlet. Montana voters have approved the education levy every decade since 1920, according to the pamphlet. The levy has a “lengthy legacy,” said Todd Buchanan, a member of the Montana University System Board of Regents. “The people of Montana make it clear that higher education and lifelong learning are a priority for our state. “I completely understand the Montana Shooting Sports Association’s position on gun rights. However, I find it unfortunate that they are willing to risk impacting the quality of our higher education system by choosing this ballot measure as their victim to express their opinion on firearm access,” said Buchanan. Joining forces with the association is the group Students for Concealed Carry on Campus. Its state director, Mike Craddock, said, “It is a step that no one wanted to take. But nothing talks louder than money, and we know that if the 6-Mill Levy is defeated, the gun owners of the state will definitely get the attention they have been after.” Steve Dogiakos, the Republican candidate for House District 93, is a member of the group but does not “see holding education funding hostage as a viable way to affect the political process…” He unconditionally supports the levy.

Marbut and the association want students to be able to defend themselves in situations such as the Virginia Tech massacre. The association maintains that the Board of Regents and universities are denying people their constitutional right to carry arms. “Think of the other constitutionally reserved rights on campus: freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, even freedom to trial by jury,” said Marbut. “If the Board of Regents and U-system officials can get away with denying the right to bear arms … none of these other rights are safe from the overbearing and overextended authority of the U-system.”

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