Knudsen: Missoula Overreaches on Gun Ordinance

The Missoula city council recently passed a city ordinance requiring all firearm transfers within the city be subject to a background check, even private transfers between individuals.

This new ordinance is in direct violation of Montana Code Annotated section 45-8-351 (2015), which states a local government may not restrict or regulate the purchase, sale, or transfer of any firearm. It is also in violation of Article II, Sec. 12 of the Montana Constitution, as well as the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution.

As the Speaker of the Montana House, I will be exercising my power to request a legal opinion on this new Missoula city ordinance from Montana Attorney General Tim Fox.

If, after review, further legislative action is needed to guarantee the constitutional rights of all Montanans, then I will carry that legislation.

I do not take this action likely. I respect the ability of local government to make decisions that represent their community. However, local control does not mean that cities can violate their citizens’ core constitutional rights. Local control does not allow cities to suppress free speech. Local control does not allow cities to seize private property without just compensation. Local control certainly does not allow cities to infringe on any individuals’ 2nd Amendment rights.

Montana Code Annotated section 45-8-351 reads:

Restriction on local government regulation of firearms. (1) Except as provided in   subsection (2), a county, city, town, consolidated local government, or other local      government unit may not prohibit, register, tax, license, or regulate the purchase, sale or          other transfer (including delay in purchase, sale, or other transfer), ownership, possession,      transportation, use, or unconcealed carrying of any weapon, including a rifle, shotgun,       handgun, or concealed handgun.

The intent of the State of Montana could not be any clearer. Local governments cannot diminish the 2nd Amendment rights of their citizens. The recently passed ordinance clearly violates state statute by regulating the sale and transfer of firearms within city limits.

If the Missoula city council insists on violating Montanans’ constitutional rights they could at least provide an idea on how they plan to enforce this scheme. As it stands, private sellers are left with little idea of the cost of compliance or how the city will track sales and background checks. Rather than being the result of cool-headed decision making, this choice was made by a desire score political points.

The negligent actions of the city council are exposing both local and state taxpayers to expensive lawsuits. The result of this ordinance will be litigation and that litigation will not be cheap for taxpayers. The Missoula city council could be using scarce resources to address the needs of the community. Instead, the council chose to use public money to fund their ideological crusade. When this ordinance is struck down it will cost the people of Missoula and the people of Montana real money that should have been put to better uses.

It does not matter if it is the federal government, the State of Montana, or the city of Missoula, our constitutional rights are sacred and I will defend those rights against any unit of government that seeks to infringe on them.

Rep. Austin Knudsen, R-Culbertson, is the Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives. Outside of politics Knudsen is an attorney and also farms with his family at Culbertson and Bainville.