In an 8-4 vote, the Missoula City Council on Monday passed an ordinance requiring criminal background checks on all private gun sales within city limits, effective in 30 days.
Ward 4 representative Jon Wilkins abstained from the vote, but after hearing a 7-4 roll call from his fellow council members changed his vote to yes, prompting a round of applause from the audience even though the ordinance would have passed with seven in favor.
“Let’s the raise the bar for ourselves,” Ward 6 representative Marilyn Marler said to her fellow gun owners. With this ordinance, if criminals get a gun, “they won’t get one from me.”
Although Ward 1 representative Bryan Von Lossberg – who wrote the ordinance – changed parts of it, the ordinance still didn’t provide clear solutions for where citizens could obtain a background check, which some dealers told Von Lossberg they wouldn’t facilitate.
“People have heard me plenty on this ordinance,” Von Lossberg said in his closing remarks. “I’m well aware of the limitations of background checks and this ordinance.”
He said his original reasons for writing the ordinance still stood: It’s the responsible thing to do as a gun owner, it could prevent suicides and it could prevent gun violence by a partner.
The council passed one amendment on the ordinance, to allow for broader language around the lending of guns for hunting. Ward 2 representative Harlan Wells pointed out the original language only allowed someone to possess their friend’s gun on legal hunting lands, but not to and from their hunt.
Von Lossberg revised the ordinance to include jail time as an optional penalty for subsequent offenses only, which held despite a failed last-minute motion by Wilkins to remove jail time as an option.
More than 30 people commented, with slightly more against the ordinance, though it was about even among those who said they lived within city limits.
People crowded around the entrance to City Council chambers over a half-hour before the meeting started, with Moms Demand Action members handing out stickers. A member of the Order of Constitution Defenders brought tiny Constitutions for each City Council member.
Around 100 people watched the proceedings, which included multiple reminders from Mayor John Engen that the audience could not applaud, cheer or speak from their seats.
Engen, who strongly supported the ordinance, greeted those who called him “on edge” and “arrogant,” with a smile during proceedings and a defense after public comment, calling out members of the National Rifle Association.
“If I get un-elected that’s fine,” he said. “My back gets up around bullies.”
As mayor, he does not vote on City Council decisions.