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Ban on felons having guns could be undone by 2014 gun rights amendment

Black semi-automatic pistol
(via Flickr/kcds)

The Missouri Supreme Court is considering whether a gun rights constitutional amendment passed last year cancels out an older state law that bars convicted felons from owning firearms.

The high court heard three cases Tuesday in which lower courts dismissed felony gun possession charges based on the new amendment, which makes gun ownership an "unalienable right" that the state is obligated to defend.

Amendment 5 was passed in August 2014, with 61 percent of the vote.  It also requires any newly proposed gun control laws to be subject to "strict scrutiny."

St. Louis assistant circuit attorney Aaron Levinson argued that the amendment does not cancel out the ban on felons owning or possessing guns.

"The legislature still has the authority to regulate firearms, and the courts provide the review of those rights and those laws," Levinson said. "Courts still have the authority to make that determination, and ... this court found that the felon-in-possession law survived strict scrutiny."

Attorney Patrick Kutz represents Raymond Robinson of St. Louis, one of the three felons in question. He told the high court that his client is not a violent man.

"Raymond is a 55-year-old single man who lives on the north side of St. Louis. He uses a cane to assist him while walking, (and) he make a living by doing rehab work on the north side of the city of St. Louis," Kutz said.  "When (he) was arrested (for) possession of a firearm in 2014, he had it in his possession in order to protect both his property as well as his person."

Kutz argued that the felony gun possession law should not apply to his client.

"(It) does not survive strict scrutiny because it's not the least restrictive way to achieve the compelling government interest of preventing firearm violence, particularly in light of the newly enacted Article 1, section 23, of the Missouri Constitution," Kutz said.  "A blanket ban on all felons possessing firearms, particularly the respondent in this case, does not pass constitutional muster."

The other two respondents are Pierre Clay and Steve Lomax, both of St. Louis. In two separate cases, gun possession charges filed against them were dismissed, citing Amendment 5.

The Missouri Supreme Court will rule on the three cases at a later date.

Earlier this year the high court ruled against another challenge to Amendment 5 brought by St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and gun control advocate Rebecca Morgan, who contended that the amendment language did not accurately reflect major changes the amendment would make to Missouri law.

Rachel Lippmann & Jo Mannies contributed to this report.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.