Greene Co. Sheriff concerned about some aspects of proposed state bills to nullify federal gun laws

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 5:22 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2021 at 5:31 PM CST
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Twin bills in the state’s legislature sponsored by southwest Missouri representatives aim at blocking gun control laws that come from the federal government.

But some of the language in those bills is causing concern for law enforcement agencies.

“I think anything on the federal level as it relates to the second amendment is an infringement,” said Jered Taylor of Republic, a state representative who’s sponsoring House Bill 85. “If anyone were to pass gun legislation it should be on the state level.”

Senator Eric Burlison of Nixa is sponsoring the Senate version of the bill (SB39). Both versions would prohibit state law enforcement agencies from upholding federal gun laws that are more restrictive than state laws.

Taylor and Burlison are both Republicans and their legislation is aimed as a preemptive strike against new Democratic President Joe Biden.

“Joe Biden says we’re gonna ban AR-15′s, we’re gonna ban certain capacity magazines, we’re gonna make additional background checks, we’re gonna make people register their weapons,” Taylor said. “We’re just telling the federal government we’re not going to help you enforce your federal gun laws.”

Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott is among several statewide law enforcement leaders who are concerned about the ramifications of the bills if they’re passed.

“I believe the goal is we don’t want a federal gun grab and I totally agree with the concept,” Arnott said of people worrying that their guns might be taken away. “It’s just what we see unfortunately on a lot of bills that come out of Jefferson City is great ideas, but it comes with unintended consequences.”

Arnott pointed out that he is not against the intent of the legislation.

“I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter,” he said. “I am pro gun. I am for carry-and-conceal, carry open, just carry. I do believe in the general direction the bill was going in trying to keep Missouri citizens rights protected to keep and bear arms. But there’s some language that was pretty harsh to go against law enforcement and some gray area that would prevent us from referring cases over to the U.S. Attorney’s office.”

Arnott said not turning some cases over to the feds was not fair to the victims in several ways.

“A lot of our most severe cases we refer to the U.S. Attorney’s office and the reason is because I can get a case adjudicated in 120 days through a federal court and it takes four years to get a serious felony pushed through here on the state level,” he said. “And the federal government has sentencing guidelines that if you get 10 years, you do 10 years. Missouri, if you get a 10 year sentence, you’re lucky to do 10 months. So do we shop to get the best deal just like you do on Amazon or wherever you shop? That’s because we work for the victims of crime.”

The bills would also allow people to sue local law enforcement agencies if they carried out federal gun laws. The original wording allowed people to sue individual officers, but that’s been changed to suing departments instead.

Arnott worked for the change but still worries about the consequences.

“When you sue the police department, the sheriff’s office, the state highway patrol, you’re suing your tax money that you just paid in,” he said. “So is that financially a good idea?”

“I don’t want anybody to sue the state or any of these departments,” Taylor replied when asked about why departments should face legal ramifications. “But if citizens see that law enforcement is violating our rights, my guess is they’re going to stop approving some of these additional taxes. They’re going to hold the police chief or sheriff accountable. It’s as simple as don’t enforce federal laws. You won’t get sued.”

Opponents of the bill have pointed to the threat of withholding tax money as essentially defunding police.

“That’s completely false,” Taylor replied. “Defunding is taking money away from their budget. This is holding them accountable.”

Taylor did agree with Arnott that federal courts are more likely to give stiffer sentences than the state.

“But that has nothing to do with this bill,” he said. “It’s a problem with our judicial system. We need to address that problem as a state and I don’t want to leave that up to the federal government. It’s not their responsibility and what the sheriff’s talking about is something we need to address on the state level. I support that legislation.”

The House bill has already received initial passage and has now moved over to the Senate while the Senate version has not yet come to a vote.

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