Missoula Gun Ordinance Shot Down By New Attorney General Opinion, Now ‘Unenforceable’
The hotly contested Missoula Gun Ordinance received a major set back today, after Montana Attorney General Tim Fox weighed-in on the issue with an official opinion.
"We underwent a very thorough and long process where we had comments and input from interested and involved parties, including from the City of Missoula," Fox said. "We issued the opinion today and, generally, in a nut-shell, what my opinion was, that the ordinance violates state statue pertaining to what powers a city like Missoula might have in regards to the regulation of firearms."
Montana Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen worked with the Montana Shooting Sports Association (MSSA) and its counsel, Attorney Quentin Rhoades to request the opinion from Fox, MSSA originally contested the Missoula gun ordinance, saying that the city lacked the authority to enforce it. Fox's opinion buttresses that position and is, until a court says otherwise, the law in Montana.
"Basically, what [the opinion] does, is prohibit the enforcement of the Missoula gun ordinance to that extent, which is, of course, the purpose of the gun ordinance: to regulate the transfer of firearms, so consequently, the city can't enforce that," Rhoades said. "An Attorney General opinion such as this, a formal Attorney General opinion, has the force of law. So, unless and until there is a court opinion to the contrary, this is the same as if the Montana Supreme Court had spoken."
Missoula City Councilman Bryan von Lossberg was a big supporter of the gun ordinance and helped urge its passage through city council. Lossberg says the decision was not surprising.
"It was expected," Lossberg said. "I think the Attorney General made it very clear where he stood on the ordinance before researching and preparing the opinion. So, at this point I'd just say that this was expected and I think they delivered an opinion consistent with where they indicated they stood at the get-go."
Lossberg says he is still convinced that background checks can save lives, specifically in cases of suicide and intimate partner homicides.
"Public policy work is clear on that front," Lossberg said. "Those are very real issues in Missoula, they are real issues across the state. The Attorney General has done some important and laudable work in this area, if there is any opportunity to make some gains where we can improve the situation on those fronts, I'm very interested in continuing to work on that front."
A lot of the disagreement between the city of Missoula and the Attorney General centered on an exemption to a state statute prohibiting municipalities from regulating the transfer of firearms. Fox said if Missoula's interpretations were allowed it would essentially destroy the statute entirely.