Gun background check measure moves on to public hearing


By Martin Kidston

The City council’s Public Health and Safety Committee mustered the votes once again this week to send a proposed ordinance requiring background checks for gun sales to a full public hearing later this month.

The measure has been there before – last year in fact, when hundreds of supporters and opponents weighed in. The proposal was ultimately sent back to committee for additional work, where it resurfaced on Wednesday.

Bryan von Lossberg, one of the measure’s sponsors, said several changes have been made to the ordinance over its evolution. The latest removes an option for jail for first-time offenders.

As proposed, background checks would not be required for gun transfers between immediate family members, nor for the transfer of relic firearms between collectors. Rather, it would require private parties selling and buying to meet at a licensed dealer, where the buyer must pass a background check.

“It preserves all of the other items set before, including the exemption for people who hold a concealed carry permit, which was the focus of significant discussion after the public hearing last year,” von Lossberg said.

Federally licensed firearms dealers are required to run background checks on gun buyers before making a sale, though no similar law applies to the sale or transfer of guns between private parties.

It’s a loophole that makes it easy for criminals and the mentally ill to buy a weapon, some say. Supporters of the measure, along with the city attorney, believe the city is legally justified to implement the ordinance.

Under state law, municipalities are authorized to “prevent and suppress the possession of firearms” by convicted felons, adjudicated mental incompetents and illegal aliens.

City Attorney Jim Nugent stood by that interpretation on Wednesday.

“It would be up to the courts to decide what tools you may utilize to achieve that specific and explicit authorization that’s in the statute there,” he said. “Everything the city council does could be litigated by someone. It shouldn’t be what the council relies on to make its decisions. It shouldn’t be intimidated by threat of litigation.”

Opponents of the measure sought to block it from winning a full public hearing.

“By initiating this type of ordinance, it would be intrusive, if not illegal,” said Bill Murray, a retired police officer and critique of the proposal. “Table it.”

Others urged the city to push forward, including Heidi Kendall, one of the measure’s ardent supporters.

“Checking to see if someone is a felon or has another reason not to own a firearm is a legitimate purpose of the government, and that’s exactly what this ordinance would do,” she said. “Eighteen states have background checks, and others are considering them. This is not an unusual proposal.”

A public hearing is set for Sept. 26.