Opposing sides of gun issue face off in Missoula public meeting

Opposing sides of gun issue face off in Missoula public meeting

Those both for and against a controversial gun control, measure filled the Missoula City Council chambers this week (Photo: Kurt Wilson/The Missoulian)

The Missoula City Council held a meeting Monday night on a proposed ordinance to expand background checks on gun transfers, and it was packed.

The law would mandate an expansion of background checks to include virtually all gun transfers including private sales and would make the gun laws in Montana’s second-largest city stronger than those of the state as a whole.

Backed by the Mayor John Engen, a Democrat and member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the state attorney general has warned the proposal likely violates state law.

This set the stage for a vocal public meeting this week that, according to local reports, saw more than 300 turn out, forcing concerned citizens to line the halls and sit on the floor as the Council heard more than three hours of public comment.

Those on both sides of the issue, including representatives from Mom’s Demand Action and the National Rifle Association weighed in.

“Background checks are not only effective, they’re popular,” Heidi Kendall, with MDA said. “Six states have passed background checks since Sandy Hook. Nevada and Maine will vote on checks in 2016.”

Council members, many of whom are on the fence on the measure, contend the Bloomberg-backed group is inflating their numbers by seeking outside comment on what is a local matter. Councilman Adam Hertz told KGVO he had 30 emails in one morning, the first of which came from “someone in New York” that were copies of a pro-ordinance letter.

Brian Judy, with the NRA ,was on hand Monday to speak against the measure, saying, “The background check requirement will do absolutely nothing to prevent criminals.”

On the eve of the meeting, sponsors of a long-running local gun show warned the ordinance, if passed, would mean the end of the line for the popular event.

“Well, it’s going to eliminate the Missoula Gun Show,” said show organizer Hayes Otoupalik. “There are only a few dealers in Missoula. Most collectors are just Montana residents that come to the show, those people do not have licenses.”

Otoupalik contends that in nearly five decades of the show’s existence, authorities have never approached him over the problematic sale of a gun.

The council refrained from acting on the proposal and is sending it back to committee for further review.

Should it become law, the Montana Shooting Sports Association has promised to see the city in court.