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Judge To Rule Soon On Missouri Bill To Block Enforcement Of Federal Gun Laws

The Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Tessa Weinberg
Missouri Independent
The Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City, Missouri.

Missouri police agencies will know within a week whether they can work with the federal government to enforce certain gun laws, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green said Thursday.

After hearing arguments over the bill lawmakers named the “Second Amendment Protection Act,” Green said he would decide quickly whether to put enforcement of the bill on hold or declare that St. Louis and St. Louis County failed in their challenge.

“It is my intention to get you an answer within a week,” Green said.

In the lawsuit filed in June, St. Louis and St. Louis County are asking for a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the law, which took effect immediately when Gov. Mike Parson signed it on June 12.

The bill declares that when “the federal government assumes powers that the people did not grant it in the Constitution of the United States, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”

It then states that federal gun laws adding special taxes on firearms, requiring registration or tracking of firearms, ammunition and accessories, or taking away guns from “law abiding citizens” cannot be enforced in the state. Missouri law enforcement agencies and officers face civil fines of up to $50,000 for cooperating with federal agencies to enforce the law.

A preliminary injunction would give time for a detailed review of the law by the courts, attorney Bob Dierker, who represents St. Louis and St. Louis County, told Green.

“We are not sure what it means. We are not sure which ordinances or statutes or federal laws we are forbidden to enforce,” Dierker said.

St. Louis is already being sued over its enforcement actions, he noted, and it has disrupted joint task forces intended to reduce gun violence in the city.

“The operations that are undertaken by the police and federal government are vital to maintaining public order and public safety in the city,” Dierker said.

In his arguments asking the court for a judgment that the bill is constitutional, John Sauer of the Missouri Attorney General’s office said it is the subject of the bill, not its methods, that bother the two local governments.

There is a provision of the bill making Missouri government agencies liable for damages if it employs an officer who violates provisions of the new law.

If it was a bill that had the same provisions but it was directed toward employment of officer who had violated the civil rights during a protest, Sauer said, the cities would not have challenged it.

“This is a civil right that is just politically disfavored in those jurisdictions,” Sauer said.

The law has already disrupted several cooperative efforts, the U.S. Department of Justice wrote in a brief filed Wednesday with the court

Frederic Winston, special agent in charge of the Kansas City Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said in an affidavit submitted to the court that a dozen state and local officers have withdrawn from participating in ATF task forces at least in part because of the law.

That includes members of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Columbia Police Department, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, O’Fallon Police Department and Sedalia Police Department.

In his arguments to Green, Sauer said St. Louis and St. Louis County should have asked the courts to opine on the meaning of the bill instead of seeking to throw it out entirely.

“They haven’t brought a declaratory judgment seeking any clarity on the meaning of the statute,” Sauer said. “They have gone for the jugular, so to speak.”

The lawsuit challenging the law argues it is too vague to enforce, violates the powers of charter cities and counties and improperly seeks to nullify federal gun laws.

“It is not the province of the General Assembly to invade the prerogatives of the other branches of government,” Dierker said. “The General Assembly has taken on itself the power to declare certain laws unconstitutional and the General Assembly does not have that power.”

Sauer tried to portray the effect of the bill as protective of Missourians’ rights should the administration of President Joe Biden follow through on campaign pledges to limit the types of guns and ammunition magazines that can be purchased in the United States.

If that was all the bill did, Dierker said, the lawsuit would not have been filed.

As he opened his argument, Sauer cited several statements by Biden and supporters during the campaign about his desire to limit semi-automatic weapons and enact other gun restrictions.

“He made a series of statements while he was a candidate that I think would be deeply troubling or even alarming to someone who passionately believes in those fundamental rights guaranteed by the Missouri Constitution,” Sauer said.

But before he got very far, Green stopped him.

“Let me help you here,” Green said. “I am just a simple Cole County circuit judge.”

He knows about legal issues, Green said, but he wasn’t going to let the hearing become a discussion of politics.

“If you want to talk about gun rights and who’s right and who’s wrong,” Green said, “I will happily reconvene for a Lincoln-Douglas debate.”

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jason Hancock for questions: info@missouriindependent.com.

Rudi Keller covers the state budget, energy and state legislature as the Deputy Editor at The Missouri Independent.