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Federal judge tosses Missouri gun law, ruling it ‘exposes citizens to greater harm’

Kansas City Star logoKansas City Star 3/8/2023 Jonathan Shorman and Kacen Bayless, The Kansas City Star
A federal judge threw out Missouri's Second Amendment Preservation Act, ruling it unconstitutional. © Robin Trimarchi/Columbus Ledger-Enquirer/TNS A federal judge threw out Missouri's Second Amendment Preservation Act, ruling it unconstitutional.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A federal judge has overturned a Missouri law that declared certain federal gun laws “invalid” if they don’t have a state-level equivalent, after the U.S. Department of Justice sued to overturn the measure.

U.S. District Court Judge Brian Wimes wrote in a decision issued Tuesday that Missouri’s Second Amendment Preservation Act “is invalidated as unconstitutional in its entirety” for violating the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which ensures federal law trumps state law.

“While purporting to protect citizens, SAPA exposes citizens to greater harm by interfering with the Federal Government’s ability to enforce lawfully enacted firearms regulations designed by Congress for the purpose of protecting citizens within the limits of the Constitution,” Wimes wrote.

The 2021 law — passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by Gov. Mike Parson — had sown confusion among Missouri law enforcement, who questioned how much they could cooperate with federal officials. The Justice Department had argued that the law “severely impairs federal criminal law enforcement operations” to fight gun crime in Missouri.

In at least one instance, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper released a federal fugitive. The DOJ in a court filing said a Highway Patrol trooper in September 2021 released the fugitive rather than risk liability for the state agency. The agency didn’t provide additional details.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, a Republican, said he will appeal the decision. In a statement, he said he expects a “better result” before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“The Second Amendment is what makes the rest of the amendments possible. If the state Legislature wants to expand upon the foundational rights codified in the Second Amendment, they have the authority to do that,” Bailey said.

“But SAPA is also about the 10th Amendment. It’s about federalism and individual liberty, so we will be appealing the court’s ruling.”

The Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Parson spokesperson Kelli Jones said the governor supports Bailey in the appeals process, she indicated the governor would abide by the ultimate decision of the courts. In an email, she said Parson “is committed to administering the law as enacted by the General Assembly and interpreted by the Judiciary.”

After the Missouri law was passed in June 2021, some police departments reacted by restricting cooperation with federal authorities, such as joint drug task forces, or limiting gun serial number information sent to federal databases.

The DOJ had said in court documents that the Missouri state crime lab, operated by the Highway Patrol, refused to process evidence that would help federal firearms prosecutions. It also said the Missouri Information and Analysis Center, also under the Highway Patrol, no longer cooperated with federal agencies investigating federal firearms offenses.

The law wasn’t enforced by any one agency but instead authorized residents to sue law enforcement officials over alleged violations. Fines of up to $50,000 per violation were possible.

“At best, this statute causes confusion among state law enforcement officials who are deputized for federal task force operations, and at worst, is unconstitutional on its face,” Wimes wrote. “While Missouri cannot be compelled to assist in the enforcement of federal regulations within the state, it may not regulate federal law enforcement or otherwise interfere with its operations.”

Local elected officials welcomed Wimes’ ruling. Officials in Kansas City, Jackson County, St. Louis and St. Louis County have long opposed the law and said Tuesday their concerns had been vindicated.

“Today’s decision provides our state, federal and local law enforcement partners the ability to enforce our federal gun laws without fear of punishment or retribution from our state officials,” Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas told reporters.

Lucas said he hoped Bailey would decide against appealing the ruling, though the state attorney general has already announced he will. Lucas said that when the previous attorney general, Eric Schmitt, resigned to join the U.S. Senate, “many of us in Missouri had hope Andrew Bailey would approach the office like a grown up.”

“It seems this type of grandstanding and purely performative political action is the sort of thing that does no real service to the people of Missouri,” Lucas said.

Some Republicans attacked Wimes’ decision by noting that he was nominated to be a federal judge by former President Barack Obama in 2011. U.S. Rep. Eric Burlison, a Republican who as a state senator championed the Second Amendment Preservation Act, said on Twitter that, “We fully anticipated an Obama appointee to issue a judgment against” the law.

In a later statement, Burlison praised Bailey’s decision to appeal and said the “State of Missouri, not a federal judge, should determine how it spends its resources.”

State Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican, said the Department of Justice “obviously” filed the case in Kansas City with the aim of getting a decision from “more of a liberal judge.”

Wimes was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 2012 by a 92-1 vote, an overwhelming bipartisan majority. Before joining the federal judiciary, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt appointed him to be a state circuit court judge in 2007.

Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Springfield Democrat, told The Kansas City Star that her immediate reaction to the ruling was “duh, of course.”

“We knew the whole time it was unconstitutional,” Quade said. “With this bill, we’ve seen law officers resign. We’ve seen lives lost. And we’ve seen a lot of chaos, and it’s just unfortunate that we continue to pass legislation here that we know is unconstitutional.”


(The Kansas City Star’s Daniel Desrochers contributed to this report.)


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