Last year, the City Council of Missoula, Montana voted to pass an ordinance that required that anyone wishing to transfer a privately owned firearm to do so through a Federal Firearms dealer. There were a couple of exceptions for family members and at shooting ranges, but this was their local version of “universal” background checks.
Many said at the time that the ordinance was a violation of Montana law. The city attorney claimed otherwise. Montana Attorney General Tim Fox expressed skepticism at the time the law passed. But now AG Fox has issued an official opinion on the matter.
Fox had maintained all along Montana law didn’t grant the city that authority — and he confirmed that position in the new opinion.
Fox noted Missoula does have certain powers as a charter city, saying it does have the authority to regulate the use and carrying of firearms under state law. However, Fox says state law doesn’t allow Missoula to have an ordinance “enforcing a local regulation or ordinance requiring background checks on firearm sales or transfers within its borders.”
Montana passed a state preemption law thirty years ago to prevent a patchwork of contradictory firearms laws from being enacted across the state.
The state previously allowed cities to make their own laws regarding firearms sales, Fox wrote in his opinion, but a 1985 House bill repealed that section of the MCA and replaced it with new language that still is in place.
“The purpose of HB 643 was clear – only the state should decide how firearm purchases, sales and transfers should be regulated, if at all.”
Many people predicted the AG would come to this official conclusion. It seems unlikely that the City of Missoula would attempt to take this decision to court, but regulators gotta regulate.
©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.