Gun group plans to challenge gun ban on Missoula buses
(Missoula Current) A Montana gun-rights group is trying to gather support to sue Missoula’s public transit agency for prohibiting guns on buses.
The Montana Shooting Sports Association plans on suing Mountain Line and maybe the City of Missoula after Oct. 1 for prohibiting guns on the bus, according to an email that association president Gary Marbut sent to association members on Saturday.
“MSSA plans to file a lawsuit against the Mountain Line and maybe the City of Missoula on October 2nd over the Mountain Line gun ban. We need valid plaintiffs to help secure our standing to bring that suit into court,” Marbut wrote.
Olga Kreimer, Mountain Line spokesperson, said Monday that Mountain Line makes rules that prohibit things like weapons, flammable liquids, fireworks and animals to prioritize the safety of passengers and employees.
“Our current policy prohibits weapons on Mountain Line property. We're currently consulting with our legal team to adapt the weapons policy to be in full compliance with state law,” Kreimer wrote in an email response.
Interim City Attorney Ryan Sudbury said Monday that the City of Missoula isn’t involved because Mountain Line is an independent entity. Other places in Missoula with gun bans include the Missoula County Courthouse.
After an attempt in 2016, Marbut has been actively working to eliminate the gun ban on the bus since the beginning of the year. On Feb. 27, Marbut wrote a letter to Don MacArthur, Missoula Urban Transportation District Board chair, asking him to eliminate Mountain Line’s policy that prohibits “firearms, BB guns, air guns (and) knives.”
In his letter, Marbut claimed the Urban Transportation District and the city of Missoula are by Montana law “subdivisions of the state” and thus lack the authority to adopt such a policy. Marbut set a deadline of March 23 for removal of the ban and cc’d his attorney, Quentin Rhoades.
“Mr. MacArthur, I appreciate that MUTD primarily wants to move people around the Missoula area efficiently and safely, and not be caught up in what it may see as political controversy. However, please see this from our perspective. We view Rosa Parks as a hero. If Rosa were to board an MUTD bus and be told that she could only ride if she sat in the back of the bus, we would be highly offended and we hope you would be also. Besides this being offensive, it would also violate the law. We see the MUTD policy prohibiting firearms exactly the same,” Marbut wrote in February.
Marbut made a similar effort in 2016, but the Missoula Urban Transportation District Board "reviewed and accepted the recommendations from legal counsel that policy is legal and in MUTD’s best interest for safety,” according to the January 2016 Board minutes.
After the February letter, the Montana Shooting Sports Association was able to push a bill through the 2023 Legislature that has emboldened the group. House Bill 631, sponsored by Rep. Jedidiah Hinkle, R-Belgrade, says government entities cannot limit residents’ right to bear arms and requires targeted governments to cover the legal costs of any residents who successfully sue over gun restrictions. Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill in May after it passed the Legislature on mostly party-line votes, although a few Republicans joined Democrats in opposition.
House Bill 631 goes into effect on Oct. 1, so Marbut is preparing to sue on Oct. 2. The main thing he’s looking for is someone willing to be a qualified plaintiff. Best if it’s someone who rides or wants to ride the bus but isn’t allowed to carry their gun, Marbut wrote.
“We would especially like to locate someone female who has been the subject of abuse or threat of abuse and who both wants to ride the Mountain Line and provide for her personal security,” Marbut wrote in his email.
The Bozeman’s Streamline bus system and the Billings’ MET Transit also prohibit weapons, flammable liquids, fireworks and animals on their buses.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.