Fresh from a victory in the courts over its local gun control efforts, Missoula’s City Council this week voted to expand their restrictions inside the city limits.
Voting 8-3 on Monday, the dozen-member council over the course of a three-hour meeting debated and approved an emergency ordinance outlawing both open and concealed carry at public buildings or “locations of public assembly” where election activities are taking place, such as voter polling facilities.
“Gun violence is a public health emergency in our country,” said local pastor, Jean Larson, a proponent of the measure. “95 people a day are killed by guns in our country. We have a need to be safe and a right to be safe from this public health emergency.”
According to FBI statistics, for 2016 Montana had 36 homicides reported statewide (17 of which were with firearms), for a murder rate of 3.2 per 100,000 residents, one of the lowest in the country. By comparison, Maryland’s murder rate, in a state with much stronger gun laws, was 8.0 per 100,000 residents for the same period.
The ordinance, which takes place immediately, bars otherwise legally carried guns from the Missoula City Council Chambers or city council meeting buildings, as well as public museums, libraries, and parks. It was adopted under the City’s jurisdiction by declaring an emergency “to protect public health, safety, and welfare.” Violators would be subject to a $500 fine.
Area resident Michelle Kearny argued that, “Unless the council has information that has not been shared with the public regarding imminent threats to citizens during voting activities or otherwise, I see no need for this emergency ordinance,” going on to say it was “yet another thinly veiled attempt to usurp our constitutional right as Americans, the right to keep and bear arms.”
The city recently won a legal challenge over a controversial 2016 ordinance adopted by a similar 8-4 vote mandating background checks on personal gun transfers at events inside the city limits. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has asked the court to reconsider the ruling pending an appeal to the state Supreme Court.
Missoula City Councilman Jesse Ramos, who voted against the expansion this week, told NRA-TV that comments against the proposal went roughly 2:1. Citing that lawful gun owners are unlikely to commit crime, Ramos argued that the ordinance may do little to make the public safer.