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Federal government sues Missouri over controversial SAPA gun law

The Department of Justice filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging Missouri’s controversial gun law that “invalidates” certain federal regulations that could restrict ownership. 

Dubbed the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) by supporters, the law went into effect last year and declared federal laws that could restrict gun ownership among law-abiding Missourians as “invalid.” 

It also dictated state and local law enforcement officers could not enforce federal firearm regulations that could be deemed invalid under the law, holding the departments financially liable if they do so. 

In its lawsuit, the federal government maintains SAPA is preempted by federal law, violates the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity, and is invalid under the Supremacy Clause. 

“This act impedes criminal enforcement operations in Missouri,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “The United States will work to ensure that our state and local law enforcement partners are not penalized for doing their jobs to keep our communities safe.” 

“A state cannot simply declare federal laws invalid,” principal deputy assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton added. “This act makes enforcement of federal firearms laws difficult and strains the important law enforcement partnerships that help keep violent criminals off the street.” 

The Justice Department (DOJ)  has asked the court to prohibit the enforcement of SAPA, or HB 85. It asked the court to stipulate state and local law enforcement officials can participate in joint federal task forces and assist in the enforcement and investigation of federal firearm crimes. 

The law was recently heard in the Supreme Court of Missouri after it survived a challenge in a lower court. 

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But Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, who is running for U.S. Senate, accused the Biden administration of attempting to “attack Missourian’s Second Amendment rights” and “suspend” the Safer Streets Initiative. 

“Unfortunately, the Biden DOJ has used this lawsuit as a pretext for them to pull the plug on our successful and innovative federal-state crime-fighting partnership, the Safer Streets Initiative. Since I launched the Safer Streets Initiative in 2019, we’ve filed over 650 charges against nearly 390 defendants with a conviction rate of roughly 98 percent,” Schmitt said. “My office has fought to continue the initiative, but this initiative has been suspended solely because of the Biden administration’s actions.” 

“Time and again, the Biden administration has put partisan politics ahead of public safety,” Schmitt continued. “Make no mistake, the law is on our side in this case, and I intend to beat the Biden administration in court once again.” 

In its lawsuit, the DOJ said SAPA violates the Supremacy Clause, a part of the U.S. Constitution that stipulates federal law is greater than state law, because it is “designed to implement and incorporate this improper attempt at nullifying federal law.” 

In the General Assembly, SAPA was championed by Republican Rep. Jered Taylor and Sen. Eric Burlison, who is running for Congress in the 7th district. 

“I think the DOJ realized how weak their arguments in front of the Missouri Supreme Court were and they know they were going to lose. As I’ve said all along, we expected that there would be a federal lawsuit filed, and we would likely end up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court,” Taylor told The Missouri Times. “I am just as confident today as I was last year that we drafted this bill in a constitutional manner, and we will prevail. The DOJ is mad that Missouri refuses to participate in the Biden administration’s tyrannical gun control policies, and I’m proud to have led the fight for Missouri gun owner. I encourage other Republican-controlled states to pass similar legislation and fight back against federal overreach.”

This case is before the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri Central Division.