Yesterday, January 26, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox issued a legal opinion stating that the City of Missoula’s background check ordinance is invalid and unenforceable.
Missoula enacted the ordinance in 2016. The ordinance requires NICS background checks for almost all sales and “transfers” (gifts and loans) of a firearm between unlicensed (non-FFL) individuals within city limits. Although the rationale was “public safety purposes to prevent and suppress the possession of firearms by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens, and minors in order to ensure that background checks generally occur with respect to firearm ownership transfers as a prevention mechanism,” in reality the ordinance would affect all law-abiding gun-owners, with criminal penalties (fines and imprisonment) for those who failed to comply.
In enacting this ordinance, Missoula City Council disregarded thousands of emails sent by NRA members and Second Amendment supporters in opposition, and instead listened to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his anti-gun groups, Moms Demand Action and Everytown.
In reaching his conclusion that the ordinance exceeded the power and authority of the city, Attorney General Tim Fox noted that the state law on cities with charter forms of government, like Missoula, specifically denies such cities “any power that applies to or affects the right to keep and bear arms” apart from the power to regulate concealed carrying. An entity “cannot try to regulate the ability to acquire firearms (sale or transfer) without exercising power that applies to or affect the right to keep and bear arms… Based on this conclusion, the Missoula ordinance cannot be enforced.” Further, by unambiguous preemption language, the Montana Legislature has restricted all forms of local government from passing their own gun control laws, with some very specific and limited exceptions.
This opinion resolves important questions about the validity and enforceability of this ordinance, an ordinance that NRA and its supporters had been challenging since the start. Thank you to Attorney General Tim Fox for defending the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners in Missoula.