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Gov. Parson, AG Schmitt send letter back to Department of Justice, respond defiantly over gun law

Published: Jun. 17, 2021 at 3:21 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 17, 2021 at 6:27 PM CDT
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP/KY3) - Missouri’s Republican governor and attorney general said in a defiant letter to the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday that they stand by the state’s new law that would ban police from enforcing federal gun rules.

Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt wrote that they still plan to enforce the new law, which Parson signed Saturday. The measure would penalizes local police departments if their officers enforce federal gun laws that are not a part of the state’s regulations.

Schmitt and Parson wrote that they will “fight tooth and nail” to defend the right to own guns as spelled out in the state constitution and the new law.

“We will not tolerate any attempts by the federal government to deprive Missourians of this critical civil right,” they wrote.

In a letter sent Wednesday night and obtained by The Associated Press, Justice Department officials pointed out that federal law trumps state law under the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

Brian Boynton, an acting assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said in the letter that Missouri’s law threatens to disrupt the working relationship between federal and local law enforcement and noted that the state receives federal grants and technical assistance.

Prosecutors in Missouri’s attorney general’s office have already withdrawn from nearly two dozen federal drug, gun and carjacking cases in St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. They had been working with federal counterparts as part of the Safer Streets initiative that Schmitt touted in 2019. Attorneys from Schmitt’s office were deputized as assistant U.S. attorneys to help prosecute violent crimes.

Missouri’s new law would subject law enforcement agencies with officers who knowingly enforce federal gun laws to a fine of about $50,000 per violating officer.

Boynton said Missouri’s law “conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulation” and that federal law would supersede the state’s new statute. He said federal agents and the U.S. attorney’s offices in the state would continue to enforce all federal firearms laws and regulations. He asked that Parson and Schmitt clarify the law and how it would work in a response by Friday.

Schmitt is running for U.S. Senate.

Republican lawmakers who pushed Missouri’s new law said they were motivated by the potential for more restrictive gun laws under Democratic President Joe Biden. But state Democrats argued that it is unconstitutional and would likely get overturned if challenged in court.

A court challenge now seems likely.

“The Department of Justice or an agency of that department can bring a lawsuit,” suggested Tom Carver, a Springfield attorney who’s been practicing law for 48 years. “It might arise in a variety of different ways. One of which would be with the state receiving federal aid in regard to law enforcement, the federal government might step in and say, ‘We’re not sending you any more money because you’re out of compliance with federal law.’ It will pop up one way or another. It could be individuals trying to sue the state of Missouri.”

Carver, a board of directors member in the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, told KY3 in an interview on Thursday what he predicts will happen.

“The U.S. Constitution Federal Supremacy Clause is going to preempt the application of this law,” he said. “Generally speaking when there’s a conflict between state and federal law, the federal law wins. It’s going to be litigated and I have no doubt that the federal government’s version of the law will be the one that survives.”

Eric Burlison, a Republican State Senator from Battlefield who sponsored the bill, disagrees and cited several examples of states’ rights being upheld in an interview with KY3 on Thursday.

“I am confident that we are on the winning side. We are the side that the court has ruled consistently in favor of the state,” he pointed out. “Recently we had a case where the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can’t force states to be their enforcers when it comes to background checks on firearms. That is directly related to what we’re doing here in Missouri. We will not be forced to be the enforcers of whatever crazy ideas this new administration has related to firearms.”

Burlison also pointed to various states legalizing medical marijuana while the federal laws do not allow for its use.

“It’s still illegally federally,” he said. “But what Missouri voters said is that our state is not going to be participating in the enforcement of those federal laws. So that’s what we’re doing with this bill.”

Peter Merideth, a Democratic State Representative representing St. Louis City, spoke to KY3 on Thursday about his opposition to the Second Amendment Preservation Act.

“It’s very obvious that this is stupid frankly,” he said. “It’s ultimately to make a political statement of, ‘Hey, we’re Missouri we value our guns!’ and also just to rile people up about some hypothetical gun laws that the feds might pass in the future.”

And that’s what this all basically comes down to...a battle over gun control measures in a country that’s looking for some way to stop mass shootings.

“The best answer to stop all of that is to make sure you have a good guy with a gun there to stop a bad guy with a gun,” Burlison said. “The only hope that some law abiding citizens have is to take matters into their own hands and protect themselves. I think it’s foolish to limit how much protection a citizen can have.”

“I don’t think most Americans or Missourians are believers that everyone walking down the street with an AR-15 would make any of us safer,” Merideth countered. “The reality is anybody could be a good guy at one moment and turn into a bad guy in another. So that’s a fundamental disagreement we have about guns. The person who thinks they’re being a hero generally isn’t a highly-trained law enforcement officer and we see our law enforcement officers make mistakes all the time with their guns.”

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