In a 10-2 vote of the Committee on Public Safety and Health, the Missoula City Council has voted to move forward with a controversial ordinance to insure that 'no sale or transfer of a firearm shall take place within the city limits unless and until the person purchasing or otherwise receiving the firearm passes a national instant criminal background check.'

The meeting on Wednesday afternoon in the city council chambers brought forth a wide variety of comments both for and against the proposed ordinance.

Author and one of the chief proponents of the ordinance, city councilor Ward One's Bryan von Lossberg, stated his reasons why Montana Code Annotated 45-8-351  does not apply in this case.

"There is a distinction between the right to keep and bear arms and obtaining firearms,"von Lossberg said. "I certainly realize those are two distinct activities, and I look at the background check system as a tool to use relative to that action of obtaining arms."

photo by Peter Christian
Harlan Wells

Following public comment, Ward Four's Harlan Wells directed a question to Missoula City Attorney Jim Nugent regarding von Lossberg's view of the state statute.

"If I remember correctly, last year Attorney General Tim Fox chimed in and said that this proposed ordinance may be illegal, so I was hoping you, as our city attorney, could weigh in on this," Wells said.

Nugent replied that the statute clearly grants the right to communities to keep certain people from obtaining firearms.

"This particular statute clearly says that all local governments have the power to prevent and suppress the possession of firearms by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens and minors," Nugent replied. "It will be up to the courts to decide what tools you may utilize to achieve that goal. "

Wells then asked Nugent if the ordinance will open the city up to a lawsuit.

"Anything the city council does could potentially be litigated by someone," Nugent said. "There have been ordinances challenged before, the most recent case was the non-discrimination ordinance a few years ago. The city council should not be intimidated by the threat of litigation."

Councilor Marilyn Marler of Ward Six proposed another public meeting to further discuss the proposed ordinance. The committee set the meeting for September 26.

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