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New 2nd Amendment Protections In Missouri Split Law Enforcement

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson shows off HB85, which he signed inside Frontier Justice gun shop in Lee's Summit, Mo., on Sat., June 12. The bill prevents local and state law enforcement officials from enforcing federal gun laws.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson shows off HB85, which he signed inside Frontier Justice gun shop in Lee's Summit, Mo., on Sat., June 12. The bill prevents local and state law enforcement officials from enforcing federal gun laws.

With shootings surging in many places across the country, at least 10 states this year have enacted so-called "Second Amendment sanctuary" laws. They vary state-by-state but most are meant to pre-empt tighter gun control measures that could come from the Biden Administration.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, signed his state's version earlier this month at a gun shop outside of Kansas City, echoing a claim that made the rounds on conservative social media:

"You've had the vice president of the United States get up in an open forum — when she was running for president, if you remember this — and any particular weapon she decided she didn't like, she was going to come to your house, onto your front door, and take it away," he said. "Well not in Missouri, she's not."

Missouri's new law imposes a $50,000 fine on any state or local official who enforces a federal gun law that's not also a Missouri law. The rule also says that federal laws that infringe on the Second Amendment are invalid in the state. A version of the act was first introduced by state lawmakers in 2013.

"This is a stupid, dangerous and unconstitutional law," says Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, a Democrat from Kansas City.

The problem she and others point out, constitutionally, is the Supremacy Clause — the part of the U.S. Constitution that says federal laws overrule conflicting state laws.

Arthur also says she thinks the legislation makes Missouri "a more dangerous place."

In 2020, Missouri experienced the third-highest gun-death rate in the country, with 689 people shot and killed — more than any previous year.

"If I'm a criminal looking to commit federal gun felonies, I'd say Missouri is a pretty great place to break the law now," Arthur says.

Law enforcement divided

A police chief in suburban St. Louis has resigned over the new law. Recently, prosecutors from the state's attorney general's office have withdrawn from nearly two dozen federal drug, gun and carjacking cases.

"The language has what they call a chilling effect on local law enforcement cooperating with federal authorities," says Kevin Merritt, president of the Missouri Sheriff's Association. He says many of his members are not necessarily against the law, but they are not thrilled about it either. "It opens them up so much for liability based on unknown circumstances," he says.

Because of a loophole in state law, some worry the Second Amendment Protection Act could keep local police from confiscating guns from Missourians convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Sen. Arthur offered an amendment to the bill that would close that loophole, but the proposal failed to gain traction.

"Missouri is in the middle of a gun violence crisis," says Tara Bennett, state legislative lead for the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action. "Instead of acting, the state leaders are punishing local law enforcement for doing their jobs."

But a spokesperson for the Kansas City Police Department, Sgt. Jake Becchina, says the new rule would not affect that department's day-to-day operations very much, thanks to a team of detectives who advise and handle gun cases specifically.

Most local departments in Missouri, though, do not have those kinds of resources.

Kevin Jamison helped found the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance and works as an attorney on gun-related cases frequently. He says it would be exceedingly rare under the new law for local police not to be able to help federal agents.

"The only case that would come up is when feds need assistance from local law enforcement as reinforcements to confiscate guns," Jamison says.

A legal challenge

To no one's surprise, the law's fate will be decided in court.

A week after the bill was signed, St. Louis City and County filed a joint lawsuit over it. In Kansas City, on the other side of the state, the county legislature is considering a resolution to join the suit, and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas has also expressed interest in joining.

"I think that this is a reckless piece of legislation," Lucas told member-station KCUR last week. "It is one of the supremely bad ideas in a year of bad ideas, and I would hope that a court strikes it down, ultimately."

In an email, a spokesman from Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office called the lawsuit partisan, and wrote, "we will continue our efforts to prosecute violent crime, and we will not shy away from defending the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens."

A timetable for the lawsuit has not been set.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3

Luke X. Martin is an assistant producer for KCUR's Up To Date.