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Missouri police will be barred from enforcing federal gun laws that regulate weapons registration, tracking and possession of firearms by some domestic violence offenders under a bill Gov. Mike Parson, a former sheriff, announced Thursday he will sign into law.
Passage of the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” represents a victory for conservatives who have pushed the legislation for nearly a decade and picked up new momentum this year by responding to the Biden administration’s vows to enact stricter gun control.
It’s been met by outrage and alarm from Democrats and gun control advocates, who have slammed the measure as dangerous in a state with such high rates of gun violence. Missouri had the nation’s third-highest per-capita rate of gun deaths in 2020.
In particular, gun control advocates have focused on what they call the “domestic violence loophole” that the legislation would solidify. Federal law prohibits gun possession for those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors, but when Missouri passed a permitless concealed carry law in 2016, sheriffs were no longer conducting background checks.
Under the Second Amendment Preservation Act, that federal limitation is one of many gun laws that would be declared “invalid” in the state. Missouri law only prohibits felons and fugitives from having guns.
Critics have questioned the legality of “nullifying” federal laws, pointing to the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. But proponents of the bill have brushed it off.
“We’re just simply saying we’re not going to lift a finger to enforce their rules,” state Sen. Eric Burlison, a Battlefield Republican, said last month.
Parson’s spokeswoman Kelli Jones wrote in a statement, “The Governor is aware of the legal implications of this bill, but also that, now more than ever, we must define a limited role for federal government in order to protect citizen’s rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
“This is about empowering people to protect themselves and acknowledging the federalist constitutional structure of our government,” she said.
The governor will sign the bill in a Saturday ceremony at Frontier Justice, a Lee’s Summit shooting range where Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler declared her candidacy for U.S. Senate Thursday, promising to keep the seat in conservative hands.
Parson made a campaign stop at the range in 2020.
“We are doing this bill because the Second Amendment is under attack. It’s under attack by the Democrats, specifically the Biden administration and the Democrats in Washington,” said Rep. Jered Taylor, a Republic Republican who sponsored the bill, when it passed in May.
The Missouri chapter of the gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action called Parson’s support “unbelievably frustrating.”
“This bill has no benefit, and will interfere with the enforcement of the critical protections that help keep Missourians safe from gun violence,” volunteer Tara Bennett said in a statement. “There is no doubt this bill should not become law.”
The legislation will bar local police from assisting federal agents in enforcing laws declared “invalid” and prohibit them from hiring former federal agents who had enforced them. There would be exceptions for cases in which the federal agents are enforcing gun restrictions that also exist in Missouri law.
If a local police department enforces one of the targeted federal laws and the subject believes their Second Amendment rights were violated, that person could sue the department for $50,000.
The measures drew concern from the Missouri Sheriff’s Association, which said its members could be hampered in partnerships with federal agents in drug or human-trafficking investigations that involve illegal firearms. And the legislation won’t prevent federal agents from enforcing gun laws in Missouri, executive director Kevin Merritt has pointed out.
Nevertheless, members of the association appeared with state Senators in May celebrating the bill’s passage.
About a dozen states have pursued similar measures and Arizona passed its own bill earlier this year. Biden has issued executive orders tightening regulation of homemade “ghost guns,” which lack serial numbers, and a device that allows a pistol to operate more like a rifle.
His administration has also encouraged states to adopt “red flag” laws that allow families or police to ask judges to temporarily confiscate guns from people who demonstrate “extreme risks” to themselves or others. The idea has gained little traction in Missouri.
The Second Amendment Preservation Act has been introduced in Missouri since 2013, when lawmakers narrowly failed to override a veto from then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat.
Democrats this year sought to attack Republicans for the legislation’s restrictions on the powers of local police departments, but support among Republicans was overwhelming. It passed the House 111-42 and the Senate 22-10.