That’s the question most were asking themselves when they headed down to the Missoula City Council this evening.
The story, one of increased background checks at gun shows and through private sales, has been in the media a lot.
It started on September 23 when the Public Safety and Health Committee of the City Council passed the proposal, ensuring it’d head to the full Council for a vote.
That vote is scheduled for tonight.
That’s why I headed down to the City Council for the first time since June 29.
Lots of others did the same.
When I first arrived at 6:55 there was a TV reporter outside recording a man with a “Don’t tread on me flag.”
Inside the hallway to the council chambers it was completely full. I’d say there was 30 to 40 people standing there.
I pushed my way through the throng. The council chambers were full. People were standing against the wall and sitting on the floor. All of the seats were full.
If I had to guess I’d say there were 150 to 200 people in attendance.
Just today Ron Catlett had a report on Media Trackers called Questionable Poll From Bloomberg Group Riles Missoula Gun Debate.
It appears that a group called Mom’s Demand Action is pushing the measure that will “require gun buyers to submit to a background check on every single firearm purchase or transfer within the city of Missoula.”
Michael Bloomberg formed this group and it’s funded through the group Everytown for Gun Safety.
You’d think that a group that’s getting $50 million from a former New York mayor could do its own poll, but instead it hired Global Strategy Group to do it.
They’re based out of New York but have many other offices around the country.
According to Catlett, the main contention of those that oppose this ordinance is pure technicality – it flies in the face of a state law that “prohibits local governments from regulating the sale of firearms.”
We know that the law isn’t important to the Missoula City Council, however. The following incidents make that clear:
- The Missoula Sidewalk Sitting Ban.
- The Theft of South Avenue Lawns.
Those are just two that come to my mind, and which were approved by the council.
General Public Comments (Non-Gun Stuff)
After that we had a man get up to talk about the school bonds. He was disappointed by the council’s support of the school bond.
“There’s at least one of you who can read – thank you Adam,” the man said in regard to Adam Hertz’s no vote on the matter.
The man mentioned how we don’t need all these high school changes. He talked about parking lots and cafeterias and other things will change. He mentioned the 84 parking spots for “elite people.”
These high school changes will cause 32 people to lose their spots, so those people will now have to park in the neighborhood.
The guy mentioned how Administration is moving to a new office, even though they just had a new office built in 2003.
It’s fun watching the eyes of the council men and women glaze over when this reading occurs. Marilyn Marler eyed her phone clock like a hawk, eagerly butted in when Jenkins’ three minutes were up.
After that we had Mike Bellows from the Libertarian Party come up and decry our high taxes. It’s hard to become motivated by Bellows, as it sounds like he needs to clear his throat, but won’t. I suppose that’s what they mean by a “gravelly” voice.”
He mentioned a “needs list” for voters, something he would prefer to our current wants list that’s costing taxpayers tons of money. He mentioned that “many of us” will be voting against the school bonds. I was one of them this past week.
Renee Mitchell came up and told the council that she was unhappy with the small space for the meeting tonight. She’d asked for a venue change during the filled-to-capacity discrimination ordinance hearing.
I suppose she asked for one this time as well, but you have to realize, the council doesn’t want a lot of voters coming in and telling them what they think.
She brought up the gambling fees that were supposed to fund education but went into the general fund instead.
She mentioned her health plan was “to eat her vegetables,” as that’s all she has. She also supports charities, but because of the increasing tax bill she’s forced to pay, she can’t donate as much.
It’s the problem that many Missoula residents face – decreasing income because of taxes. Many of these people are on fixed income, though like Mitchell, many still work even though they’re past “retirement age,” whatever that is.
The Consent Agenda (More Non-Gun Stuff)
Issues up today included the $1.2 million in checks going out tomorrow, as well as $49,000 for the water company acquisition. Each week we have those water company costs.
My how the lawyers benefit.
We had a few people make comments on the consent agenda. One person asked where we could see itemized agendas and budgets, which are online.
A Homeword person came up in support of that funding.
It was a unanimous vote for the agenda, 12 votes in all.
The water acquisition got one no vote, from Hertz, the sole conservative on the council.
After that we had a special presentation on Relationship Violence Awareness Month. This consisted of Marler reading a statement. All citizens are encouraged to take part in the activities prepared to celebrate this.
When that had finished we got to the 4 public hearings scheduled.
The first was the proposed urban renewal project for Scott Street…which will be rescheduled for next week on the 26th.
The next two public hearings were from Drew Larson. He discussed the Development Services annexation of the northwester relay station on Duncan Drive near the Rattlesnake Creek Trail.
The second hearing had to do with exclusion of land in Orchard Homes.
Folks, this is dry stuff.
That didn’t stop George Lick, the owner of the Orchard Homes property, from coming up and giving a comment.
He discussed his problems getting a subdivision going. He mentioned his problems dealing with the city and the legislature. The legislature said “the people in Missoula were not playing with a full deck of cards.”
The problem, Lick said, was that the city never held up their end of the bargain. That bargain was that if the subdivision was not completed then the land would revert to the city.
Lick says he paid $8,000 in taxes on the land. It would have been over $100,000 if the 30 lots had been built. He said the city did not hold up its end, causing him to incur expenses to such an extent that developing the area was no longer feasible.
I doubt anyone on the council cared one lick for what George Lick said tonight. They don’t care that the city “is not following local government guidelines.”
Another problem for Lick is that he’s talking about issues dating back to 2010. Our council turns over so often that few will know what he’s talking about. I’m not sure that many of them know what Orchard Homes looks like, on top of it.
Besides Lick, the measures got no comments from the public – unless you count glazed eyes as comments. Lick finally said he was against the measure.
A woman got up after that and said that Lick ran out of time and that was his fault. She’d brought the measure forward to begin with.
A man got up after that and said he’d like to see a map of areas in the city and areas in the county, as we currently don’t know.
Lick’s item went back to committee for further discussion on the 28th. The other measure was passed on 12-0 vote after a Randall Street sewer project was discussed, an un-zoned area in East Missoula.
The Guns Meeting Begins…and Stalls
There’d been some noise in the hallway ten minutes earlier, people getting excited, agitated. They wanted to be heard, damn it, on whatever side of the issue they fell upon. What was going on?
Well, we had to talk about zoning and some other things.
How the meeting went was:
- Ward 1’s Bryan von Losberg gave a comment.
- A person from Moms Demand Action talked and then a person from the NRA talked.
- After that we got to what the public wanted to say. The plan was to “be here all night.”
- People would be given 3 minutes to talk.
- Mahler also mentioned that the issue would be going back to committee, meaning there’d be no vote tonight.
Losberg went ahead and read off the ordinance. “Family, hunting, and self-defense” would be areas that are excluded from the proposed ordinance, he said.
All in all, he told us what the issue is. We’ve heard it before.
Recent Stories on Missoula’s Gun Ban
Montana Public Radio had a story around 5 PM called Gun Sale Background Checks Get First Hearing In Missoula Tonight.
He tells us that if the City Council votes yes tonight the measure will still have to face final adoption on November 2.
He also told us that supporters are “undeterred” by the recent charges by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox that this ordinance will violate state law.
“I just honestly don’t know how to comment on why they’re weighing in on a local issue,” Moms Demand Action Missoula volunteer Heidi Kendall said.
While the legal knowledge of PAC volunteers should always be questioned, that of Missoula city attorney Jim Nugent should not.
Nugent was wearing a pale, cream or tan suit. I’m not sure what you’d call it, though the tie was red and struck a fine chord against the white shirt.
Nugent’s a lawyer, one that takes no guff. His frown was perpetual throughout the meeting
“We have a responsibility here to take a small action – and this is a small action – that could make a difference in our community,” he said after the initial committee passage of the background check idea. “I would suggest that our Legislature ought to consider this, but it’s not, so we’re left in the box of trying to figure this out for ourselves.”
He finished off by saying “this might be hard, but I think it’s worth it.”
No one can suggest that Engen isn’t noble, but they could argue that he’s misguided as hell. His lackluster tenure – one bordering on terrible, if you ask me – has seen property taxes increase while providing little, if anything, substantive in return. Now he wants to take “a small action.”
I’d rather he focus on finding me a better job and one that pays more, but when I bring that up I’m shouted down, told to put my chin down and get a real job. I’m not sure the same is told to the untold numbers that also question our lackluster economy.
John Engen didn’t feel it necessary to show up at the meeting tonight. Maybe he was preparing his arguments for the 2017 legislature, as if they’d want to help reduce gun ownership in Montana.
I personally find Engen’s absence reprehensible. We pay this man a shit-ton of money and give him a car to drive around on top of it. He can’t get his fat ass down to a Monday night meeting? Boy, the gall of that man, the sheer gall.
The Gun Meeting Revives
It was told in a PowerPoint Presentation that Montana has the 2nd highest suicide rate in the nation.
The background check system was run-through. We were told that 500 guns are available right now in Montana by unlicensed sellers on Armslist.
We were told that there are 50 gun dealers in Missoula. We were also told that background checks take 90 seconds, on average.
Since 1998 nearly 2.5 million gun sales have been blocked because of background checks.
Currently, in states without background checks, deaths are higher, partner deaths are higher, and police deaths are higher. The women told us that 79% of Montanans support background checks.
Brian Judy got up after that and he’s with the National Rifle Association.
On September 24, Breitbart had a piece called Missoula, Montana’s Democrat Mayor Seeks Ban on Private Gun Sales.
The article does a good job pointing out that many of the recent shooters in the news passed background checks to get their guns. It also mentions that the Sandy Hook shooter “stole his guns, so a background check ordinance would have done nothing to stop that attack.”
Isn’t that what this is about, really, at the bare bones level? People in Missoula want to stop an attack like that from occurring.
The best way they see to do that is by requiring more background checks on guns.
I’d argue that finding more jobs, increasing income, combating substance abuse, and other such measures would do more to reduce gun violence than more background checks.
Judy mentioned the expert testimony that we always hear and asked who these experts were…Michael Bloomberg?
He got quite a few chuckles on that from the men standing in the aisle. The men for the most part were young, bearded, and wearing hunting-style baseball caps. Yep, these are gun supporters, no bones about it.
Judy didn’t have a PPT but he did have a booming voice…something that might have hurt him. After all, we just had two native-Missoulian women get up. They were soft-spoken and made sense.
Judy was hard-hitting and often off-putting. I felt immediately that the tone of the council chambers had changed. Here, ladies and gentleman, was a man that was not afraid to speak his mind.
“The proposed ordinance is a clear violation of state law,” Judy said, and discussed Fox’s recent opinion.
Judy was a big supporter of the recent Missoulian editorial that decried this gun ordinance.
Losberg mentioned that he listened to Judy on the radio and how Judy had referenced a case on the radio.
Judy said he hadn’t been on the radio, then the actual 1993 case name was brought up, and Judy said he was familiar with that.
He then said he was unsure of that case, which is 188.8.131.52 (I think).
Losberg pressed him and said the statute had been in effect in Montana since the 70s. Clearly, Nugent had had his staff busy.
After that pissing contest we moved on to a question by Hertz, in which he said someone from the Montana Shooting Association had been speaking. Losberg said this had not been the case.
After that Emily Bentley asked what ward Judy lived in and he said he was from northern California. That would explain the fancy shoes.
Judy went ahead and sat down at that point.
At that point Ward 1’s Jason Weiner pointed out that a sign was up, put there by the Libertarian as he was sitting on the floor against the council desks.
One of the hunter-hats shouted out “take off your shirts” to this, which was in reference to the “signs’ pinned to some people’s shirts.
A woman was called-out for taking the Libertarian sign and trying to pin it to her shirt.
Marler called for a 5-minutes recess.
By 8:30 the meeting was back in progress, though we moved to a staff report
The clerk gave a report on who supported the ordinance, which was quite a few:
The Gun Meeting Fires to Life
A woman named Jane Larson got up, a Lutheran pastor here in Missoula. She asked, “do we love our guns more than we love our children?”
“Apparently so,” she said, for without adequate gun control that’s what we see on the news all the time.
She said this has to stop and that we can start right here. She referenced the 2nd Commandment, not the 2nd Amendment, telling us to love our neighbors.
Pamela Owen, the chapter leader for Moms Demand Action got up at that point. She presented a petition signed by over 1,200 signatures with 840 Missoula residents in support of this measure.
Owen called for a show of hands of those that supported the measure and most in the hall went up. One young hunter-hat objected to this, saying “why is this allowed when other things aren’t?” or something to that effect.
The Libertarian Mike Bellows was back at that point. He said we don’t need government permission to own a gun.
Bellows mentioned that veterans that’ve had some forms of psychiatric treatment are automatically disqualified by these background checks.
Bellows ran for the U.S. House in 2014 and I have a feeling he’ll be doing so again in 2016.
Robin Turner got up, the policy director at the Association Against Domestic Violence…or something like that. She represents over 50 programs across Montana to people that are affected by domestic violence.
She named off quite a few organizations in Missoula that she supports. She supports any local ordinance that will reduce violence. Nationally, a woman’s risk of death from an abuser increased by 5 times if a person in the home has access to a gun.
We had a survivor of gun violence after that. When she was 7-years old a student pulled out a gun and shot and killed another student.
Another woman came up, one from Anaconda. She mentioned how having guns secure in the homes is vital. She mentioned the teen suicides, most recently one in Butte. This own woman lost a child to suicide.
She mentioned how her stalker found them after moving from Montana to New Mexico. People like that can’t buy guns from the gun shops because they wouldn’t pass the background checks, she said.
A man named Dennis Shay got up after that. He talked about the “common sense notion” that gun ownership protects society.
“Cherry-picked statistics” won’t convince him, he says. He said we can’t measure the unseen benefits that the 2nd Amendment gives us.
He mentioned how he’s a low-income working Montanan and he’s worried that the cost of arms will increase, “further alienating him from his rights.”
He says we can overcome the mass-shooting individuals by focusing on their problems.
Gary Marbut’s son, Ty Marbut, spoke at that point, as his father is recovering at home from heart surgery.
He mentioned the veritable “book” that Marbut wrote on gun laws, how he’s accepted as a witness in gun issues, and other such things that talked up Gary.
He doesn’t think that this ordinance will result in behavior change. What he’s saying is that someone who’s trying to avoid a background check will continue to seek ways to do that.
Another man got up to speak in opposition. He mentioned the huge tax increases for schools, how the library is coming up, the parks bond will hit in 2017, and the water lawsuit is there.
He mentioned how the city is going to knowingly enter into a third lawsuit against them.
There have been 13 incidents in 10 years where convicted felons are caught by law enforcement with firearms in their possession. Why didn’t background checks work?
He thinks engaging in another lawsuit at taxpayer expense is not the answer right now, one that won’t do anything to the criminal element.
By this point we had the hunter-hats come up. The first was from Whitefish but had recently moved here.
He didn’t see how this spat of mass shootings plays into this. He grew up in a gun household. He mentioned California’s going after of 2nd Amendment rights.
He says he’s getting sick of the county continuing to spend money. He doesn’t like all these laws that we’re creating that turn law-abiding citizens into criminals.
After that Ann Green got up, an older woman from Tremont street who thanked everyone for introducing this measure.
She was shot in the leg by a teenager in a passing car while riding her bike. There was no trial and she never met her assailants. She’s been dealing with health issues ever since.
She’s a statistic now, one of the 120,000 injured by gun violence so far this year. She mentioned her university professor husband and how the student employees he hires are subjected to background checks. Why not for guns?
The news broadcasters pulled out by this point, for they needed to get their story on to the 10 o’clock news.
It was clear to me that no one’s minds were going to be changed tonight.
We know the make-up of the City Council. Adam Hertz is the only conservative, and I’m not even convinced he’ll vote against this.
He probably will, though. After all, we know that it’ll create another lawsuit and be overturned in court. There won’t be any public comment to that one, just a lot of cost to the public.
I fully expect this will get kicked back down to committee and then it’ll pass on a 10-2 or 11-1 vote.
How long the lawsuits will take I’m not sure, but I’ll give it a day, a week at most.
This is an issue for the legislature, that’s clear.
There’s a state law that takes precedence here. Where were all these supporters in January and February when public comments were being taken by the legislature in Helena?
Who knows, but I doubt they’ll drown out the paid lobbyists and professional gun supporters that maraud the Montana legislature each year.
Until then, Missoulians will continue to pay the price…in more ways than one.
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