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Gun sales in Missoula

Second public hearing set for firearm sale ordinance

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Background checks

A poll conducted by a national firm found that 82 percent of Missoula County voters support mandatory background checks on gun sales, and they’re more likely to support City Council candidates who back efforts to improve gun safety.

With just two members opposed, the Missoula City Council voted to give a proposed firearm sales ordinance another public hearing, almost a year after it was first introduced.

The ordinance, sponsored by councilors Bryan von Lossberg, Marilyn Marler and Emily Bentley, had its first public hearing in October 2015, when more than 300 people showed up to comment.

More than 30 people came to the Public Safety and Health Committee meeting Wednesday, and about a third of those commented on the proposal, which was largely unchanged aside from the removal of jail time as a violation penalty.

“Each of us wrestles with the difference between the right to keep and bear arms, and the right to obtain these arms,” von Lossberg said in his opening statements. “I see that as a distinct activity.”

Von Lossberg introduced the ordinance, while committee chair and councilor Jon Wilkins asked people to keep their comments short, as there would be further hearings.

The committee had few comments on the ordinance, while the public made largely similar statements to those in previous hearings, including gun retailers’ hesitance to offer background checks for private sales.

Clinton Decker said he wanted to know how the ordinance would be enforced or paid for, predicting that gun sales in Missoula would all just take place over the county line.

“This will be met with civil disobedience,” he said.

Burt Caldwell, a Marine and “enthusiastic” gun owner, disputed the idea of good guys with guns stopping bad guys with guns. He supported the ordinance.

“That is not only simplistic, it’s far from reality,” he said. “We can work to ensure that a higher percentage of gun owners are responsible people.”

Von Lossberg said section 45-8-351 of the Montana Code Annotated, which says cities or local governments may not prohibit or regulate the purchase, sale or other transfer of any weapons, does not apply to Missoula, as it’s a self-governing city.

Two citizens brought up the idea that Missoula would be sued and the ordinance would fail under scrutiny of a judge.

City Attorney Jim Nugent said every measure and ordinance passed by the City Council is susceptible to legal action, most commonly changes in land use laws.

“City Council should not be intimidated by threat of litigation,” he said.

Wilkins ended the meeting by reminding attendees they could be liable for sending threatening emails to council members regarding the ordinance.

“I still question in my mind if this is the right thing for Missoula,” Wilkins said. “I also know that it’s already against the law to sell a weapon to a felon, it’s already against the law to sell a weapon to someone who is mentally handicapped, but without a background check, how do you know that?”

First read and public hearing on the ordinance is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 26, at 7 p.m. The ordinance will then proceed to second read that night, or be sent back to committee.

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