Judge: Missoula can require checks on private gun sales

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HELENA, Mont. (AP) A Montana judge ruled that Missoula has the right to require background checks for private gun sales, which would be the first such expansion of background checks in a state that is fiercely resistant to new gun restrictions.

Attorney General Tim Fox, who had argued that state law denies local government any powers that would affect the right to keep or bear arms, planned to appeal the Thursday decision by District Judge Robert Deschamps, a spokesman said.

The Missoula City Council passed its ordinance two years ago requiring background checks for gun purchases from private, unlicensed sellers. Currently, only gun sales from licensed sellers require background checks under federal law.

The ordinance was never enforced because Fox issued a legal opinion opposing it that had the rule of law until it went before a judge.

Attorneys for the city sued in April saying Missoula wasn't imposing on anybody's Second Amendment rights. Rather, the ordinance aimed to make it more difficult for people who aren't allowed to own firearms, such as convicted felons, to buy them through private sellers, they argued.

Deschamps wrote in his ruling state law requires that Missoula's power and authority must be "liberally construed." In other words, the city may provide any services or perform any functions not expressly prohibited by constitution, law or charter, Deschamps wrote.

"By invalidating the City of Missoula's Ordinance, the Attorney General's opinion deprives Missoula of its own authority," Deschamps wrote.

State law also gives Missoula the authority to prevent and suppress the possession of firearms by felons and others who aren't allowed to possess them, the judge added.

City officials did not respond to a call or email for comment.

Fox spokesman John Barnes said the attorney general's office plans to either ask the court to reconsider its ruling or file an appeal with the Montana Supreme Court.

"The state respectfully disagrees with the court's ruling and maintains that Montana law does not allow cities to enact a patchwork of firearm regulations," Barnes said.

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