Missoula’s New Gun Regulation Comes Under Fire

Montana Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen challenges new Missoula ordinance regulating gun sales.

A few weeks ago, the Missoula, Montana City Council passed an ordinance requiring all gun sales to first undergo a background check — even private transactions. U. S. Law Shield reported on this issue previously.

There were many voicing their opinion questioning the legality of the city’s move, including Montana’s Speaker of the House, Austin Knudsen, and its Governor, Steve Bullock.

Knudsen has followed through on his promise to challenge the ordinance by sending a formal request to Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, for an opinion of the legality of the city’s ordinance in light of the Second Amendment and the Montana Constitution, both of which ensure the right to keep and bear arms. Knudsen believes the ordinance also violates a state law that provides that local governments cannot regulate the sale or transfer of firearms, except in certain circumstances.

John Barnes, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, said that the AG received the request along with the required legal memorandum. Both are currently under review.

If the request meets statutory guidelines, the AG will notify the Speaker in writing if he chooses to accept the request, and the AG’s office will have three months to issue an opinion.

When the ordinance was first proposed, Missoula city attorney Jim Nugent issued his own legal opinion that said the ordinance fell under an exception. His reasoning was that State law does allow local governments the “power to prevent and suppress … the possession of firearms by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens and minors.”

AG Fox has previously issued the following statement regarding the ordinance:

“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.”

If issued, a legal opinion from AG Fox could only be overruled by a state district court or the Montana Supreme Court.

City attorney Nugent said that the city is prepared to defend the ordinance in court if necessary.

If the city prevails, it could encourage other cities across the country to attempt to pass their own strict gun regulations, exploiting a perceived “loophole” in their state’s laws that vest the power to regulate gun laws with the state legislature.

Law Shield will continue to follow and report on this matter.