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Montana Attorney General appeals Missoula gun ordinance ruling to state Supreme Court

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Attorney General Tim Fox

Attorney General Tim Fox speaks at the Montana state Capitol in September 2018.

As promised, Montana's attorney general has taken the legal battle over Missoula City Council's proposed gun ordinance to the state Supreme Court. 

Attorney General Tim Fox appealed a Missoula District Court judge's rulings to the Montana Supreme Court on Nov. 29. The opening brief in the appeal has yet to be filed. 

The appeal focuses on three rulings made by Missoula Judge Robert "Dusty" Deschamps in October and November. The first effectively overturned Fox's decision voiding a city ordinance requiring background checks on all gun sales in Missoula. 

The City Council passed the ordinance in 2016 but it never went into effect because of Fox's subsequent order. In April, the city challenged Fox's decision in court, arguing it had the legal grounds to ensure felons don't come into possession of firearms. Deschamps ultimately ruled in favor of the city, against Fox's argument that local governments don't have the power to limit the sale and transfer of firearms. 

The appeal also seeks to overturn an Oct. 25 order by Deschamps, which denied Fox's request to reopen the case in state district court so the Attorney General's Office could present the arguments it had planned before Deschamps ended the case in Missoula's favor. Department of Justice spokesman John Barnes said then the Attorney General's Office would appeal. 

The third point of the appeal is a Nov. 9 judgment by Deschamps, which officially concluded the case after he denied Fox's motion to reopen the case.

The ordinance at hand, sponsored by Missoula City Council Chair Bryan von Lossberg, would require background checks on all sales within city limits, including those between private parties.

The legal tangle over the ordinance drew participation from local gun owners — some of whom entered their name as supporters of the ordinance — as well as the Montana Shooting Sports Association and the National Rifle Association, which sought to aid Fox in quashing the ordinance. 

City officials hailed Deschamps' ruling as a public safety win for Missoula, while the AG's office said it was concerned about cities enacting a patchwork of firearm regulations across the state. 

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