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Missouri cannot disregard federal gun laws, Justice Department says

In enforcing the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA), Missouri cannot reject or disregard federal gun laws, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) said in a letter to Gov. Mike Parson less than a week after he signed the bill

SAPA, sponsored by Rep. Jered Taylor, seeks to declare federal laws that could restrict gun ownership as “invalid” in the state. It also said public officers and employees cannot enforce federal firearm laws that would be deemed invalid under this law, and those who do could be subjected to a $50,000 penalty. 

Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton told Parson and Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause supersedes the new law. He also warned the law could hamper relationships between the federal government and Missouri. 

“HB 85 threatens to immediately disrupt the working relationship between federal and state law enforcement officers, many of whom work shoulder-to-shoulder on various joint task forces, for which Missouri receives ample federal grants and other technical assistance,” Boynton said. “In addition, HB 85 risks sowing confusion among both the regulated community of federal firearms licensees, who are obligated under criminal penalty to comply with federal law, and Missouri citizens. And as drafted, HB 85 raises significant concerns under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.”

“The public safety of the people of the United States and citizens of Missouri is paramount,” he said. 

HB 85 specifically says taxes and fees imposed on guns, ammunition, or firearm accessories “not common to all other goods and services and that might reasonably be expected to create a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership of those items” is to be considered an infringement on Missourians’ Second Amendment rights. Registration or tracking of guns and gun ownership also falls under that category, according to the bill’s text. 

SAPA says federal acts deemed to be an infringement on individuals’ Second Amendment rights “shall be invalid in this state, shall not be recognized by this state, shall be specifically rejected by this state, and shall not be enforced by this state.” 

In his letter, which was first reported by Associated Press, Boynton lays out five key areas of concern with HB 85, particularly as the bill “purports to declare unlawful federal firearms regulations.” 

“Under our federal system, a state cannot nullify federal law,” Boynton said. “Instead, where federal law conflicts with state law, state law is preempted.” 

Boynton also listed concerns regarding whether Missouri is seeking to directly regulate and limit federal law enforcement agencies, possibly impeding in state-federal partnerships, and potential targeting of state or local employees who worked for or cooperated with the federal government. It also seeks a clarification of the effective date of HB 85. 

In particular, one point of concern with HB 85 is the domestic violence gun loophole. HB 85 defines “law-abiding citizen” using state law, but federal law prevents convicted domestic abusers from possessing a firearm, Boynton noted.

Boynton asked Missouri to respond to his letter with the clarifications requested by Friday. 

A spokeswoman for the governor said she had not seen the letter and could not immediately provide a comment from Parson. A spokesman for Schmitt did not immediately respond to a request for comment either. 

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Taylor said he “look[s] forward” to how Parson and Schmitt respond to the letter, noting he believes SAPA will hold up in court.

“Our law enforcement in the state of Missouri will not be helping enforce federal gun laws on law-abiding citizens in the state of Missouri,” Taylor told The Missouri Times.

The bill was a focus of Republican leadership as this year’s session drew to a close. The Senate passed it after a lengthy standoff the night before session ended, and the House gave its final approval with an hour left before the legislative deadline. 

The measure saw extensive pushback from the other side of the aisle with Democrats saying it is a “defund the police” measure and could encourage dangerous fringe groups. One point of contention was an attempt to add a provision closing a loophole in state law allowing domestic abusers access to firearms, a measure its proponents are already gearing up to champion again next year. 

Parson signed the bill on June 12 at Frontier Justice, a gun store and shooting range, in Lee’s Summit. 

“This legislation today draws a line in the sand and demonstrates our commitment to reject any attempt by the federal government to circumvent the fundamental right Missourians have to keep and bear arms to protect themselves and their property,” Parson said at the time. “HB 85 puts those in Washington, D.C., on notice that here in Missouri we support responsible, law-abiding gun owners, and that we oppose government overreach and any unlawful efforts to limit our firearms.” 

Earlier Wednesday, Attorney General Eric Schmitt joined a brief with nearly two dozen other attorneys general in support of California repealing its decades-old assault weapons ban. 

The Biden administration has made curbing gun violence a priority for his time in office. 

Following the news of the federal government’s letter to Parson, Senate leaders praised and castigated the move. 

“This is the same group of Republicans who are ready to risk $2 billion in federal health care funding [because] they want to deny women access to contraceptives and think the feds aren’t watching,” Senate Minority Floor Leader John Rizzo said on Twitter, referencing the ongoing FRA reauthorization negotiations

On the other side of the aisle, Majority Floor Leader Caleb Rowden said: “Missourians value their [Second Amendment] rights. I won’t let the DOJ, Joe Biden, or anyone else take those rights away. 

Cameron Gerber contributed to this report.