By Martin Kidston

The Missoula City Council voted Monday night to grant a public hearing to consider an ordinance that would close the gun-show loophole by implementing background checks for firearm sales and transfers withing the city.

The measure passed 9-2 after Ward 2 council member Harlan Wells and Ward 5 council member Annelise Hedahl attempted to block it from advancing to a public hearing scheduled for Sept. 26.

“I think this is an illegal ordinance,” Wells said.

Monday night's discussion was intended only to decide whether the public should have the right to weigh in on the contentious issue. One woman spoke in favor of the public hearing while two men urged the council to block it from advancing to further debate.

Dennis Gordon, an opponent of the measure, said the ordinance would place him in legal jeopardy. He argued with Mayor John Engen at length about timekeeping and brought his own stopwatch to the podium before commencing to speak.

When he did, Gordon based the substance of his argument off a recent article in the Missoula Independent condemning one of the bill's sponsors, Ward 1 council member Bryan von Lossberg.

“It would be unconscionable to advance this ordinance to a public hearing when it has been discredited by its own sponsor and author,” said Gordon, citing alleged quotes in the article. “You have the option tonight to take this frivolous ordinance off the table.”

Gordon urged Ward 5 council members Julie Armstrong and Hedal to kill the measure. Armstrong supported the public hearing while Hedahl did not, though she offered no explanation as to why.

Hayes Otoupalik, a vocal gun advocate, accused the measure's sponsors of manipulating its opponents. He also suggested one other council member told him that Missoula Police Chief Mike Brady would not enforce the measure if the City Council adopted it.

“Mr. (Jon) Wilkins tells me the police chief said he wouldn't enforce it,” Otoupalik said. “I ask you to table this.”

The measure would require private parties selling and buying guns to meet at a licensed dealer, where the buyer must pass a background check.

Supporters believe state law grants the city the power to prevent and suppress the possession of firearms by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents and illegal aliens, though opponents disagree.

As proposed, background checks would not be required for gun transfers between immediate family members, nor for the transfer of relic firearms between collectors. It would also exclude firearms acquired for personal defense.

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