The state of Missouri isn’t backing down after passing a law that rejects federal gun restrictions, even after the Justice Department warned the state against enforcing the new legislation.
Missouri’s Gov. Mike Parson this month signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act, which instructs local and state police not to enforce federal gun laws. A violation of the state law could result in a $50,000 fine.
The move prompted the Justice Department to send state officials a letter last week, telling Mr. Parson that Missouri can’t ignore federal law.
“Missouri is not attempting to nullify federal law. Instead, Missouri is defending its people from federal government overreach by prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies from being used by the federal government to infringe Missourians’ right to keep and bear arms,” wrote Mr. Parson and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt in response to the DOJ.
A spokesperson from the Justice Department did not immediately comment on the matter.
The state law was passed with the intent to curtail the feds from enforcing increasingly restrictive gun laws on Missourians.
“This is, in many ways, forward-looking — expecting a very aggressive action on the part of the Biden administration as it relates to the Second Amendment,” Mr. Schmitt, who is running for retiring Sen. Roy Blunt’s seat in the U.S. Senate. “We are not going to back down.”
Earlier this year, the Democratic-led House passed two gun-control measures aimed at expanding background checks for all gun sales. The laws face an uphill climb in the 50-50 Senate where they’re bound to fail without bipartisan support.
The Biden administration, though, has also expressed interest in an assault weapons ban, raising concerns among some Missourians that they’ll lose access to AR-15s.
Mr. Parson said his state law “puts those in Washington, D.C., on notice that here in Missouri we support responsible, law-abiding gun owners, and that we oppose government overreach and any unlawful efforts to limit our access to firearms.”
But Democrats in the state have decried the legislation and a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the measure has already been filed.
St. Louis and St. Louis County filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court, asking a judge to halt enforcement of the law. The argument is that the state legislation runs afoul of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which holds federal law is superior to state law.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, a Democrat, said the state law is dangerous, noting that last year was one of the deadliest years in Missouri for gun violence.
Sam Page, the county executive for St. Louis and also a Democrat, said residents of the state must feel safe.
“This new law is like the state holding out a sign that says `Come Commit Gun Violence Here,’” Mr. Page said.
But Missouri officials charge the lawsuit is brought by a bunch of progressive politicians who are championing defunding the police.
“This was Missouri putting the marker down saying you won’t do this with the Second Amendment,” said Mr. Schmitt. “We are confident we will be successful in the St. Louis lawsuit.”
Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University, said federal law trumps conflicting state law — and that’s true for gun laws. He noted the Supreme Court has held gun ownership rights are not absolute and can be subject to reasonable regulations.
“So states and municipalities cannot shield their citizens from constitutionally valid federal firearms regulations,” he said.
Anders Walker, a law professor at Saint Louis University, said the move by Missouri’s leaders is “political theater.”
“The governor and the attorney general know there is no conditional basis for this law but they are running on issues that Missourians — especially rural Missourians — believe in and they know it is nonsense, but they are out of issues but they need something to talk about so I think this is just a circus,” he said.
But Royce Barondes, a law professor at the University of Missouri, said the federal government does not have the right to commandeer local and state authorities to enforce federal law.
“By this act, the Missouri Legislature has exercised state authority not to have its localities be commandeered into participating in enforcing certain federal firearms laws. It would appear the state of Missouri has the right to do that,” he said.
Republicans, though, said the Justice Department’s criticism of Missouri’s law conflicts with the feds’ own position on immigration laws and protecting “sanctuary cities.”
Mr. Parson and Mr. Schmitt pointed out in their letter to the DOJ that President Biden reversed former President Trump’s policy of barring federal money to sanctuary jurisdictions where law enforcement won’t work with the federal government to impose immigration laws.
“President Biden and the Department of Justice have decided to reward states and cities that refuse to cooperate with enforcing constitutional immigration laws that protect our citizens against foreign threats, but now they attack Missouri for refusing to cooperate with enforcing unconstitutional gun confiscation laws that put our citizens in danger and degrade their rights,” their letter read.
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.