Missoula County grants exception to firearm rules for hunting group’s rifle auction

Missoula County commissioners on Thursday granted an exception to an ordinance regulating the presence of firearms on county property to a hunting chapter, which is looking to display a rifle in an upcoming auction.

The auction does not represent a transfer of firearms and the winning bidder must pass a background check and retrieve the weapon from a federally licensed dealer.

“The gun is not going home with anyone at the event,” said Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. “It’s just for display purposes only so folks know what they are buying the raffle tickets for.”

In October, the county amended a longstanding ordinance regulating the carrying of firearms in schools, county-owned buildings and areas of public assembly, saying the old ordinance was outdated and no longer complied with state law.

The city of Missoula also has prohibited firearms in polling places and developed city parks. It also prohibits firearms – concealed or not – in Missoula City Council chambers and other buildings where the council might meet, along with public museums, public schools and the Missoula Public Library.

Strohmaier said an exception could be made under county regulations to Montana Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife, which looks to display a rifle for an upcoming auction. The winning bidder will need to retrieve the weapon from a federally licensed dealer and pass a background check.

“It’s qualitatively different than what we were trying to address by way of our firearms ordinance or policy,” Strohmaier said. “That clearly was a situation where firearms would be coming and going from the venue, like a gun show. In this request, no guns are leaving the premises.”

The city of Missoula in 2016 passed its ordinance requiring background checks on all gun sales and transfers within city limits. It represented an attempt to close a so-called “loophole” in federal that allows people to buy guns at a gun show without undergoing a background check.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox has challenged the city’s ordinance and the case remains in court. A District Court judge has ruled the city’s ordinance legal under state law, though Fox has appealed to the Montana Supreme Court.

The county hasn’t attempted to close the same loophole, though it did amend its ordinance regulating the presence of weapons at certain county-owned facilities.

The county’s exception to the hunting group’s display of a single firearm for auction came with the group’s pledge that a background check would be required of the winning bidder.

“I like that this is an exception and not a policy,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “If they want to use firearms or have firearms be part of these public facilities in the future, they also would have to ask for an exception.”

A county attorney said the exception fits within the rules granted in county’s amended firearms ordinance.