- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

ST. LOUIS (AP) - The Missouri Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a state law banning felons from possessing firearms, ruling that it does not violate a constitutional right to bear arms.

The court decision was based on a version of the Missouri Constitution that existed before voters amended it in 2014 to enhance the right to bear arms. But the court’s majority opinion relied upon the same “strict scrutiny” standard that is required by the new amendment while analyzing whether the felon-gun law infringes on people’s rights.

“The felon-in-possession law, which bans felons from possessing firearms, with no exceptions other than possessing an antique firearm, is sufficiently narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling interest of protecting the public from firearm-related crime,” the court wrote. “Therefore, it passes strict scrutiny.”

Several judges said they would not have used the “strict scrutiny” standard but still agreed with the conclusion that the law banning felons from possessing firearms passes constitutional muster.

The court’s ruling was handed down as two similar opinions involving felons who already were in the process of appealing their convictions when voters approved the constitutional amendment enhancing gun rights.

Santonio McCoy of St. Louis - whose various prior convictions included stealing, burglary and unlawful use of a weapon - was charged with being a felon in possession of a pistol for an incident that occurred in June 2012.

Marcus Merritt, who was convicted of a federal drug dealing felony in 1986, was subsequently charged with additional drug crimes and violating Missouri’s felon-gun ban for possessing a revolver, shotgun and rife in November 2012.

When Merritt’s case was argued before the high court in December, attorneys representing the state and Merritt both urged the court to clear up confusion about how to apply the newly enhanced constitutional gun rights. Although the court declined to rule based on the new amendment, it’s determination that Missouri’s law passed the “strict scrutiny” test could nonetheless provide some guidance to prosecutors and defense attorneys.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said earlier this year that roughly 300 felon-in-possession charges are filed in St. Louis each year “to get dangerous felons disarmed,” and dropping charges based on the new gun-rights amendment would create even more gun crime in a city where violence is rampant.

The issue became so concerning that police began turning to the U.S. attorney’s office in St. Louis to prosecute some cases to circumvent uncertainty over the state constitutional amendment. Police Chief Sam Dotson, who had opposed the new constitutional amendment, had said previously it made it difficult to get charges to stick against convicted felons caught with guns.

Messages seeking comment on Tuesday’s court ruling from Joyce, Dotson and McCoy’s attorney were not immediately returned


This story has been corrected to reflect that while the court upheld the law banning felons from possessing firearms, it did not do so on the basis of the constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014.

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