Missouri calls on court to uphold law declaring federal gun laws ‘invalid’ following Kansas City shooting

Missouri officials recently took a stand in court to defend a comprehensive state law that declares certain federal firearms laws as “invalid.” This bold move showcases just how determined the state is to resist any restrictions on guns.

In a recent development, Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s Office has strongly advocated for the preservation of the state’s Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) during oral arguments at the federal Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. This act, which was signed into law by Governor Mike Parson in 2021, has caused some confusion among law enforcement since its implementation.

The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to challenge the measure, aiming to overturn it. In March 2023, U.S. District Court Judge Brian Wimes declared the law unconstitutional, but Missouri has appealed the decision.

The Missouri vs. DOJ courtroom showdown, originally set for February, took place just over a week after prosecutors stated that at least two individuals engaged in a gunfight following the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl rally. Tragically, the incident resulted in the death of one bystander and left over 20 others injured.

The recent mass shooting has reignited the push for action against gun violence and drawn renewed scrutiny towards Missouri’s lax firearms regulations. Most Republicans have been reluctant to entertain calls for stricter gun control measures. In the aftermath of the shooting, Bailey has actively highlighted his efforts in defending the Second Amendment Preservation Act.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated that SAPA severely hampers their efforts to combat gun-related crimes in Missouri. There is uncertainty among local law enforcement regarding the extent to which they can collaborate with federal officials under this law.

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As the state attorney general, Bailey’s responsibility is to uphold state law in the courtroom. Bailey, who is currently running in a highly competitive Republican primary, has publicly presented his defense of the state law as a staunch support for the Second Amendment.

However, during the court proceedings, his office has chosen to focus its defense on the 10th Amendment. This amendment specifically reserves certain powers for the states that are not delegated to the federal government.

Missouri Solicitor General Josh Divine argued before the appeals court that this case is not about the Second Amendment, but rather about the Tenth Amendment.

The SAPA has declared several federal gun laws as invalid, which include regulations regarding weapons registration and tracking, as well as the possession of firearms by certain domestic violence offenders. As per the act, state and local police are not allowed to assist federal agents in enforcing any of these “invalid” laws. Additionally, they are prohibited from hiring former federal agents who had previously enforced these laws.

Under the law, private citizens can file lawsuits against police departments, claiming that their Second Amendment rights have been violated. These lawsuits can result in damages of up to $50,000.

U.S. Circuit Judge James B. Loken expressed serious doubts about Divine’s reliance on the 10th Amendment. He emphasized that the 10th Amendment does not grant states the authority to exercise powers that are prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. Judge Loken also highlighted the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, which establishes that federal law takes precedence over state law.

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Judge Loken expressed his dissatisfaction with the argument presented by the counsel, stating that it did not convince him upon examining the text of the 10th Amendment.

Bailey’s office is arguing that SAPA does not invalidate federal law. In court, Divine presented the law as a directive to government agencies, instructing them not to utilize state resources for the enforcement of unconstitutional federal laws. He emphasized that the law merely expresses a constitutional interpretation.

According to Divine, the United States’ rhetoric is greatly exaggerated and does not accurately compare to the era of Jim Crow. He believes that the situation back then was much more severe, with state police actively blocking schools to resist federal desegregation orders. Divine argues that the United States’ current stance is simply meant to provoke a strong reaction, rather than accurately representing the situation at hand.

The Department of Justice maintains its stance that the law is an unconstitutional effort to reverse federal law. According to court documents, the agency asserts that the law has caused disruptions in well-established state-federal task forces and the sharing of information.

In one incident, a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper opted to release a federal fugitive instead of risking liability for the state agency, according to a court filing by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in September 2021.

DOJ attorney Jeffrey Eric Sandberg expressed his concerns to the appeals court regarding the potential consequences of SAPA. He presented a hypothetical scenario where a U.S. marshal attempts to apprehend a fugitive, only to encounter resistance from the fugitive who believes they have the right to defy the law. Sandberg emphasized the serious implications that such defiance could have, including the possibility of fatal outcomes.

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According to Sandberg, it is essential to avoid any violent confrontation when it comes to the enforcement of federal law.

The appeals court is currently reviewing the case and has not yet reached a decision.

Over the past year, the law has remained in a state of suspension. After ruling the measure unconstitutional, Wimes instructed that state and local law enforcement can actively engage in the investigation and enforcement of federal firearms crimes without fear of facing penalties. Additionally, Wimes prevented Missouri from implementing or enforcing the measure.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Bailey’s request to let Missouri enforce the law during the ongoing appeal.

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