AG rules Missoula gun ordinance illegal

By CULLAN STAACK/Montana State News

Montana’s Attorney General Tim Fox says Missoula’s controversial gun background check ordinance, passed in September, violates Montana state law.

The law in question requires private gun owners to complete a background check before selling a gun within Missoula city limits. Essentially, a background check on the buyer must be completed before a legal sale of a gun can occur, even between friends or colleagues.

Support for the ordinance originated in the local chapter of the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America advocacy group, which presented the Missoula City Council with data about the incidence of suicides and acts of intimate partner violence committed using guns that were not legally allowed to be in a person’s possession.

Jack Dawson, a Missoula resident, voiced his support for the ordinance by saying, “If there’s going to be one more extra step for somebody to get a gun that can harm somebody, either on purpose or on accident, I think why not and create a safer environment for everyone if possible.”

The background check ordinance originally passed through the city council on Sep. 26, 2016, with an 8-4 vote in one of the more pro-gun red states in the Union. The ruling was initially met with a wide range of criticism, support, and varied legal opinions among those affected.

Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent previously said that, “The people of Missoula have the constitutional right to petition their local government to consider an issue that relates to public safety.”

Tim Fox responded by saying, “Contrary to the opinion of the city attorney, whom I respect, I believe that Missoula’s proposed gun control ordinance is prohibited by state law and likely violates our constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

Fox claims that Missoula’s attempt to regulate firearms violates a specific law in the Montana Code that denies the power to affect the right to keep or bear arms by a local city government. Based on this law, Fox says, “Missoula’s ordinance is outside of its authority.”

Tim Fox’s legal opinion of the ordinance has the force of law unless the city council appeals the Attorney General’s opinion and subsequently procures an overruling by a district court or the Montana Supreme Court. The ordinance, however, is now legally unenforceable in the city of Missoula for the time being.

Missoula City Council member Bryan von Lossberg, who sponsored the legislation, confirms that city attorney Jim Nugent gave his blessing to the council, saying, “He absolutely was consulted and issued an opinion making it clear the city was absolutely in its rights to pass this.” Von Lossberg also says that there are no immediate plans to appeal the Attorney General’s opinion.

– edited by Jordan Sparr

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