Two Missoula City Council members on Monday night voted against allowing a public hearing on a proposed law requiring background checks on all guns purchased or transferred in the city.
But that didn’t deter Missoula’s other 10 council members from voting to allow the public a chance to weigh in on the controversial measure at a hearing next month.
While the issue of mandatory background checks has received only one public hearing – that taking place during a committee meeting last week – the opinions for and against the proposal are deeply entrenched.
“I’ve read all the emails that have come through, and I don’t appreciate veiled threats,” said Ward 4 council member Jon Wilkins. “Hopefully, people can at least be civil. I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I will support the public meeting.”
The ordinance, sponsored by council members Bryan von Lossberg, Marilyn Marler and Emily Bentley, would require a criminal background check on all gun sales and transfers, with exceptions granted for family trading, hunting and emergency self defense.
The goal, supporters argue, would make it that much harder for criminals and the mentally incompetent from acquiring a gun, while providing reassurance to private gun sellers.
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“We received several emails requesting this public hearing,” said Ward 3 council member Alex Taft. “Interestingly, nearly all of those were from women. It made me think about another group of women, mothers in fact, that took action when they saw a public safety issue, and that’s Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.”
Taft said MADD has made headway in preventing drunken driving fatalities over the years. His argument, however, drew a sharp response from Ward 2 council member Adam Hertz, who joined Annelise Hedahl in voting against setting a public hearing on the gun ordinance.
“Luckily, drunk driving is not a constitutionally protected right,” Hertz said. “However, the right to keep and bear arms is. This ordinance is blatantly in violation of state law. If we pass this ordinance, we can certainly expect to see litigation.”
That, however, remains a source of contention. Last week, the city attorney issued a legal opinion citing state code that affords local governments the power to prevent the possession of firearms by “convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens and minors.”
In public comment, Mark McMillan, an opponent of the ordinance, said a similar legal fight cost the city of San Francisco more than $380,000 in legal fees when it lost its case to the National Rifle Association.
“I think the money lost to a guaranteed lawsuit would be better spent on additional law enforcement to enforce existing laws and increase police patrols,” McMillan said.
Candy Matthew Jenkins also opposed allowing a hearing. She compared the city’s proposed ordinance to Nazi Germany and communism.
“First they go for the weapons of the people, so the people are disarmed and can’t fight,” she said. “I don’t see how this protects our homes and children against this tyranny. I don’t want a public hearing on this.”
The ordinance does not mention taking firearms away from legal gun owners.