During the Missoula City Council Committee of the Whole meeting via ZOOM on Wednesday, Missoula Police Chief Jaeson White was questioned on many topics, including the issue of individuals openly carrying firearms near Black Lives Matter protesters.

Ward 6 City Councilor Julie Merritt asked if it was possible for White to order those carrying firearms to leave the area.

White responded by quoting Montana law regarding the open carry of firearms.

“The mere open carry of a firearm is not illegal in the State of Montana,” said Chief White. “We cannot legally intervene in that right. In addition, the mere carrying of that firearm in public does not meet the definition of intimidation.”

White described what must occur before a police officer can intervene in such a situation.

“There have to be more overt acts regarding the firearm and the presentation of the firearm in order for it to meet the legal definition of intimidation,” he said. “There would have to more of an overt act or a threat involving the use of that firearm in order for use to meet that statutory authority for us to intervene.”

White said once that standard of conduct has been established, then police can take official action.

“Should that occur, and that information be made available the police department during any of these demonstrations, we would clearly intervene in that circumstance,” he said. “We would investigate and recommend charges as appropriate.”

Other city council comments centered on implicit bias training that White himself has received, as well as the rank and file police department.

There were members of various indigenous organizations from the University of Montana, as well as the Black Student Union represented on the call that continued on for nearly two hours.

There were several individuals who attempted to interrupt the meeting with phone calls addressing Chief White, that were cut off by Council President Bryan Von Lossberg, who promised them a chance to address the chief following the meeting.

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