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DOJ asks court to block ‘plainly unconstitutional’ SAPA

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asked a court to block a controversial gun rights law from going into effect, arguing it has already impeded drug and weapon investigations. 

The Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA), which Gov. Mike Parson signed into law in June, sought to declare federal laws that could restrict gun ownership among law-abiding Missourians as “invalid” in the state. It also said law enforcement cannot enforce federal firearm regulations that would be deemed invalid under this law, holding departments that do so liable for $50,000 in redress. 

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page filed a lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court in June seeking to block the law from going into effect. 

The DOJ filed a statement of interest Wednesday, stating the law was “invalid” under the federal Supremacy Clause. While the language included a severability clause allowing the bill as a whole to survive if parts are invalidated, the government argued the bill was invalid as a whole and decried potential negative effects on law enforcement across the state. 

“The state of Missouri lacks authority to nullify valid federal law, including the firearm regulations at issue here. Once the central premise upon which HB 85 stands is rejected — and federal firearm laws are recognized as valid — all remaining substantive provisions of HB 85 must also be rejected,” the statement said. “In sum, HB 85 has caused, and will continue to cause, significant harms to law enforcement within the state of Missouri. HB 85 is also plainly unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause.”

The DOJ’s involvement was first reported by The New York Times. 

Frederic Winston, the special agent leading the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) Kansas City Field Division, also sounded off on the bill’s effect on law enforcement in a declaration filed with the court. He asserted looming risks associated with SAPA had led to the withdrawal of one dozen state and local officers, including from the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Columbia and Sedalia police departments, from ATF operations. 

“By withdrawing state and local officials from ATF task forces, ATF is no longer able to fulfill its duties as effectively, including preventing, investigating, and assisting in the prosecution of violent offenders. These state and local officials are critical members of ATF’s law enforcement efforts,” Winston said. “As a result of the withdrawals identified above, SAPA has negatively harmed law enforcement and public safety in Missouri.”

This is the latest development in the standoff between the state and the federal government over SAPA: The DOJ sent an inquiry into the law in June, seeking clarification on several points while also raising multiple concerns. Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt defended the law in their previous response: “We will not stand by while the federal government tries to tell Missourians how to live our lives.” 

“Missouri is not attempting to nullify federal law. Instead, Missouri is defending its people from federal government overreach by prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies from being used by the federal government to infringe Missourians’ right to keep and bear arms,” Parson and Schmitt said. 

Rep. Jered Taylor, who sponsored the legislation, previously told The Missouri Times he believed the law would hold up in court. 

The bill has an effective date of Aug. 28.

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