A slightly modified amendment to Missoula’s ordinance banning concealed or open carrying of firearms in certain locations is slated to be debated at Monday night’s city council meeting.
Procedurally, the initial amendment to expand the ban on carrying firearms in some public buildings and parks first has to be considered by the council. However, city officials on Friday were writing an updated version of the proposed amendment that incorporates suggestions made in recent weeks.
The original called for prohibiting members of the public from bringing firearms into any building where the city council meets, public art museums, the public library, public parks under the city’s jurisdiction and “any other locations of public assembly where persons gather together to conduct and/or administer any public election while election-related activities are taking place.”
The current ordinance only bans weapons and explosive devices in City Hall and public school buildings.
At a recent work session, some council members were concerned about the blanket prohibition for public parks and trails, which were some of the same issues raised by the Parks and Recreation board.
Donna Gaukler, director of the Missoula Parks and Recreation department, said they hope the proposed amendments will “clarify and codify” rules that have been on their books for 30 years.
“Weapons are not permitted in parks and haven’t been for 30 years, so this is not a unique change,” Gaukler said. “But the difference is to change it from a rule to an ordinance.”
Park rules are more difficult to enforce than ordinances, according to Gaukler. She said the only option when it was a rule was to cite someone carrying a weapon in a city park for trespassing. But more typically, a staff member would be dispatched to the site of a complaint and ask the person to secure the weapon in their vehicle.
If the rule morphs into an ordinance, it allows police to cite the person carrying a weapon.
Gaukler said the proposed amendment will do more by clarifying that the ordinance only covers developed parks and not open spaces, like Mount Jumbo, where people may hike across the city park in order to go hunting on the public lands beyond the park boundaries. Weapons also could continue to be allowed on commuter trails, if the new ordinance passes with the Park and Recreation board’s recommendations.
“The interpretation of what a park is has changed, because we didn’t have open lands 30 years ago; that only started in earnest in 1995 with the first general obligation bond,” Gaukler said. “But weapons cannot be discharged within city limits. That’s always been the rule.”
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The proposed amendment also limits carrying firearms to certain park lands that feature large or frequent gatherings or are often used by children. It also notes that permits can be obtained for gun shows, veteran’s 21-gun salutes, or similar events in public parks.
In an email to Gaukler, City Attorney Jim Nugent warned that the wording for trails needs to be specific, noting that the language proposed by the Parks and Recreation board “arguably could allow weapons/firearms in Caras Park, Silver Park, Fort Missoula, Plain Fair Park and others.” That language was being massaged Friday afternoon.
City council member Jesse Ramos said he plans to propose an amendment that will exempt people with concealed carry weapon permits, because they’ve gone through background checks and classes. He has a concealed carry permit.
“Some statistics show that people with concealed carry permits are less likely to commit a crime than an off-duty police officer,” Ramos said.
He also would like to remove parks from the list of places where weapons are prohibited, noting that they are places where homeless people gather, sometimes to use drugs, and a gun is a “great equalizer” when it’s being carried by a woman confronted by a 250-pound man.
Council member Julie Merritt proposed the changes in September as both an emergency amendment and an update to the ordinance after concerns were raised about open and concealed carrying of weapons in polling places. The county attorney’s office said there were gray areas, because weapons aren’t allowed in schools, and most of the polling places are in schools. But more often, polling places no longer are strictly in schools, and Merritt wanted to clarify and expand the ordinance to include polling places as well as other public places.
The emergency amendment route was needed in order to have the amended ordinance in place by the Nov. 6 election.
Merritt was traveling Friday and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The majority of emails to the council on the matter are in support of the ordinance amendment, with some including personal experiences. One man noted how he’s been impacted by one near-death and nine deaths by people using handguns to kill themselves. Another man wrote of his concerns that someone carrying a gun in a park might think his autistic son was a threat when he has a meltdown and shoot him.
“I do not believe in ‘armed but not dangerous,’” wrote Shawn Kearney. “We hear all the time about the use of lethal force that arises out of misinterpreted circumstances. Good guys with guns have, do, and will continue to make these sorts of errors of judgment that results in loss of life.”
The city council meeting and public hearing on the ordinance begins at 7 p.m. Monday in the chambers on 140 West Pine St.