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

Missouri officials recently appeared in court to defend a comprehensive state law that declares certain federal firearms laws as “invalid.” This serves as a clear illustration of the extent to which the state has gone to counteract gun restrictions.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s Office recently presented a compelling argument to the federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, urging them to uphold the state’s Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA). This law, which was signed by Governor Mike Parson in 2021, initially caused some confusion among law enforcement when it was implemented.

In a legal battle, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit to challenge the validity of the measure. A ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Brian Wimes in March 2023 declared the law unconstitutional, but Missouri has decided to appeal the decision.

The highly anticipated courtroom confrontation between Missouri and the DOJ was originally set for February. However, it took place just over a week after a chaotic incident where multiple individuals opened fire, resulting in the tragic death of an innocent bystander and the injury of over 20 people. These events unfolded following the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl rally, as reported by prosecutors.

The recent mass shooting has sparked renewed demands for action on gun violence, drawing attention to the lax firearms laws in Missouri. Despite these calls, most Republicans have been hesitant to consider implementing new restrictions. Following the shooting, Bailey has actively promoted his involvement in defending the Second Amendment Preservation Act.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has stated that SAPA has a significant impact on the effectiveness of federal criminal law enforcement efforts to combat gun crime in Missouri. There have been concerns raised by certain local law enforcement agencies 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 defend state law in court. Bailey, a Republican candidate facing a tough primary race, has consistently portrayed his defense of the state law as a staunch support for the Second Amendment.

In the courtroom, however, his office has focused its defense on the 10th Amendment, which ensures that powers not given to the federal government are reserved for the states.

Missouri Solicitor General Josh Divine emphasized that this case is not about the Second Amendment, but rather a matter of the 10th Amendment, as he addressed the appeals court.

The SAPA has deemed certain federal gun laws as invalid, which encompass regulations related to weapons registration, tracking, and the possession of firearms by certain domestic violence offenders. As a result, the act prohibits state and local police from assisting federal agents in enforcing these “invalid” laws. Additionally, they are also prohibited from hiring former federal agents who had previously enforced these laws.

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

U.S. Circuit Judge James B. Loken expressed significant doubts regarding Divine’s reliance on the 10th Amendment. He emphasized that the 10th Amendment does not grant states the authority to exercise powers that are forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. Judge Loken also referred to the Supremacy Clause in the Constitution, which establishes federal law as superior to state law.

Judge Loken expressed his dissatisfaction with the argument presented by the counsel, stating that he found no support for it in the text of the 10th Amendment.

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Bailey’s office contends that SAPA does not invalidate federal law. During the court proceedings, Divine portrayed the law as a directive for government agencies to refrain from utilizing state resources in the enforcement of unconstitutional federal laws. He emphasized that the law solely represents a constitutional interpretation.

Divine argues that the current situation is incomparable to the era of Jim Crow, where state police actively prevented compliance with federal desegregation orders by blocking schools. According to Divine, the rhetoric used by the United States in this context is exaggerating the severity of the situation for shock value, rather than accurately reflecting the reality.

According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), they maintain the position that the law is unconstitutional as it aims to overturn federal law. In their legal documents, the agency highlights the significant impact the law has had on state-federal task forces and the sharing of information.

In a recent incident, a federal fugitive was released by a Missouri State Highway Patrol trooper. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), a Highway Patrol trooper chose to release the fugitive in September 2021, fearing potential liability for the state agency.

Jeffrey Eric Sandberg, an attorney from the Department of Justice, expressed concern to the appeals court regarding the potential implications of SAPA. He emphasized the possibility of SAPA promoting defiance of federal law, which could have severe consequences, even leading to fatal incidents. To illustrate this point, he presented a hypothetical situation involving a U.S. marshal attempting to apprehend a fugitive who firmly believes they have the right to resist arrest.

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According to Sandberg, it is crucial to avoid any violent confrontations when it comes to enforcing federal law.

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

For the past year, the law has been effectively on hold. When Wimes declared the measure unconstitutional, he mandated that state and local law enforcement could assist in the investigation and enforcement of federal firearms crimes without facing any repercussions under the law. Additionally, Wimes prohibited Missouri from implementing or enforcing the measure.

The U.S. Supreme Court denied Bailey’s request in October, declining to allow Missouri to enforce the law while the appeal is ongoing.

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