BOZEMAN - Three weeks ago, 21-year-old Fabjan Alameti moved from New York City to Bozeman with plans to buy firearms and allegedly use them in an attack on the U.S. Court documents imply one reason Alameti came to the area is the ease - compared to other states - of purchasing a gun in the Treasure State.
“I’m going to Montana and gonna buy a gun since all they need is a background check and ID,” Alameti allegedly wrote to an FBI informant in March.
On April 3, the Albanian national was arrested without incident at Zero In Indoor Shooting Center in Bozeman by the FBI. Alameti had gone with an informant to allegedly rent and practice using an M1A rifle. He had allegedly talked about plans to attack random civilians to "avenge" the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand last month, which left 50 dead, many of whom were Muslim.
Zero In’s Public Relations and Marketing Manager Lee Williams admits: “It did happen here. We cooperated fully with [the] federal agency that was involved with that, and that’s really all I’m at liberty to say about that.”
Despite the incident, Williams clarifies that safety has always been and will continue to be Zero In’s priority.
“We want people to understand that no matter what happens, they're gonna be safe here, especially,” he says. “We want to make sure that you're safe from anyone else that would want to do something stupid.”
The list of Montana residents that aren’t allowed to own guns is fairly short, since Montana is a shall-issue state. According to the United States Concealed Carry Association, shall-issue means that “as long as an applicant passes the basic requirement set out by state law, the issuing authority (county sheriff, police department, state police, etc.) is compelled to issue a permit.”
Over the two weeks he was in Bozeman before his arrest, Alameti visited a pawn shop and the Walmart in Bozeman attempting to purchase firearms. He was told that he had to have a Montana drivers license and was turned away.
However, Alameti did succeed in purchasing an air pistol and ammunition in a Billings Walmart. You do not need a permit to use an air pistol if you are above the age of 18.
Court documents don’t indicate which pawn shop Alameti reportedly went into, but one shop in Bozeman explained to Montana Right Now what their procedures are when it comes to selling firearms.
“It’s a fairly easy process,” says pawn broker Logan Wilson at Great Northern Pawn. “They fill out a gun form, [there’s a] series of questions they go through, and then I’ll call, give [the FBI and ATF] the name, sometimes they can put their social so we know exactly who they are.”
Then comes the most important step for first-time gun owners: getting approval from the authorities. That means a background check by the FBI or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
But according to Wilson, that process can take as little as 15 minutes in some cases.
There are restrictions on who can own which guns. For example, if you’re under the age of 21, federal laws say you can’t own a handgun (though you may be able to use a long gun). If you’re under the age of 18, you can’t own a gun at all. Children under the age of 14 are not allowed to carry or use firearms in public.
“I’ll give a call to the FBI, and they’ll look at it, go through it a little bit closer, give me either a proceed, delayed, or denied completely,” says Wilson.
The odds of getting a proceed, or “all-clear,” are pretty high.
“As for me personally,” Wilson says, “I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone get denied outright. It does happen. People get delayed, I would say, probably one in every ten.”
A delay means the law enforcement agency needs to look into the applicant’s name further. According to pawn shop employees, this is normally because the applicant has a name similar to someone who is not allowed to have access to firearms. A delay does not mean that the applicant will not eventually receive approval to buy the firearm.
While Montana’s gun laws certainly aren’t a free-for-all, the state’s laws are more relaxed than other states.
“On a state level, there are certain states where you’re gonna have magazine limits and certain other laws, certain guns you can’t sell,” says Wilson. “Montana’s not gonna have those laws.”
First-time gun owners always need to be approved by law enforcement before purchasing a gun. If you have been approved, have a concealed-carry permit, and don’t break any laws that would take those firearms away, you are then free to purchase guns without approval.
Wilson also clarified that different pawn shops have different rules in what they may or may not sell - and to whom - even if it may be legal to do so.
For example, at Great Northern Pawn, only people from the surrounding states can buy firearms. Wilson says that’s because the employees are familiar with the surrounding state’s gun laws, and so they can be sure they’re putting guns into the hands of people that met those state’s qualifications.
They may also limit who can buy certain types of guns. Those limitations are created at the discretion of the shop’s owners.
Alameti appeared before a U.S. magistrate judge last Thursday on charges of possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance as well as making false statements involving international and domestic terrorism.