And So It Begins — Missoula Becomes First City in Montana to Restrict Private Gun Sales


Montana. Big Sky Country. Land of ranches, expansive vistas, wilderness … and guns.

Ranchers carry guns to manage their livestock. Families keep guns for protection because law enforcement may be over an hour away. Children are taught gun safety at an early age. In 2015, Guns & Ammo magazine ranked Montana as the 11th best state for gun ownership.

But all this did not stop the Missoula City Council from passing an ordinance by an 8-4 vote on September 26, 2016, requiring participants in PRIVATE gun transactions to undergo a background check before the sale can be completed. This ordinance only applies to transfers of firearms that take place within the city limits though. Step across the border into the county, and you can sell your firearm without having to conduct a background check on the potential buyer.

The law does exempt certain transactions, like those between immediate family members, a transfer to someone with a concealed weapons permit, transfers of curio and relic firearms between collectors, transfers of antique firearms, and in some instances of temporary transfer or loans for hunting, target shooting or competitions.

City council member Bryan von Lossberg drafted the proposed legislation, claiming it is about saving lives and reducing suicides and domestic violence. He also believes the ordinance will decrease the number of guns in the hands of those not allowed to legally possess firearms, such as convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents, illegal aliens and/or minors.

Unfortunately, there is a Catch-22. The city permits private gun transactions between individuals. And an individual does not need to possess a Federal Firearms License (FFL) to sell a gun privately. But the private seller still must conduct a background check on the buyer through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). And average gun owners can not conduct background checks because the tools to conduct them are only available to licensed dealers.

Von Lossberg admits many FFLs will not be equipped to handle an influx of background check requests from gun owners seeking to complete private sales. But, he hopes some business will take the initiative to become equipped to handle such inquiries from private sellers.

There is, however, another potential problem. Sales would require the FFL to enter a gun in his records, and then complete the background check through NICS. If the buyer fails the background check, the FFL is required to then check the seller before giving the gun back. If the seller fails, the FFL is left with a gun he didn’t buy and can’t sell.

So conducting a legal gun sale/purchase in Missoula just became more complicated. Does von Lossberg believe the criminals will obey the law and not acquire guns without the required background check? It appears the only ones affected by this new ordinance will be the law-abiding gun owners of Missoula.

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