Missouri responds defiantly to Justice Dept. over gun law

Summer Ballentine
Associated Press

Columbia, Mo. — Missouri’s Republican governor and attorney general said in a defiant letter to the U.S. Department of Justice on Thursday that they stand by the state’s new law that would ban police from enforcing federal gun rules.

Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt wrote that they still plan to enforce the new law, which Parson signed Saturday. The measure penalizes local police departments if their officers enforce federal gun laws.

Schmitt and Parson wrote that they will “fight tooth and nail” to defend the right to own guns as spelled out in the state constitution and the new law.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signs legislation limiting the during of local public health orders during a ceremony Tuesday, June 15, 2021, outside the state Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.

“We will not tolerate any attempts by the federal government to deprive Missourians of this critical civil right,” they wrote.

In a letter sent Wednesday night and obtained by The Associated Press, Justice Department officials pointed out that federal law trumps state law under the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.

Brian Boynton, an acting assistant attorney general at the Justice Department, said in the letter that Missouri’s law threatens to disrupt the working relationship between federal and local law enforcement and noted that the state receives federal grants and technical assistance.

Missouri’s new law would subject law enforcement agencies with officers who knowingly enforce federal gun laws to a fine of about $50,000 per violating officer.

Boynton said Missouri’s law “conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulation” and that federal law would supersede the state’s new statute. He said federal agents and the U.S. attorney’s offices in the state would continue to enforce all federal firearms laws and regulations. He asked that Parson and Schmitt clarify the law and how it would work in a response by Friday.

Schmitt is running for U.S. Senate.

Republican lawmakers who pushed Missouri’s new law said they were motivated by the potential for more restrictive gun laws under Democratic President Joe Biden.

Republican Sen. Eric Burlison, of Battlefield, helped pass the bill and said he’s not aware of any federal gun laws currently enforced that are not also illegal under state law. But he said the legislation, HB 85, will prevent local law enforcement from enforcing any “wild ideas” later enacted under Biden.

“If this administration wants to go down a path of enforcing unconstitutional gun grabs, then our law enforcement officers, through HB 85, will not be lifting a finger to help them,” Burlison said.

State Democrats have argued the law is unconstitutional and will likely get overturned if challenged in court.

Similar bills were introduced in more than a dozen other states this year, including Alabama, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Wyoming, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, West Virginia and Iowa. In Texas, the governor has called for the state to become a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary.

Several states passed similar laws under then-president Barack Obama, though judges have ruled against them.

Prosecutors in Missouri’s attorney general’s office have withdrawn from nearly two dozen federal drug, gun and carjacking cases in St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. They had been working with federal counterparts as part of the Safer Streets initiative that Schmitt touted in 2019.

Schmitt spokesman Chris Nuelle said in a statement that the Attorney General’s Office has been replacing prosecutors “as is the natural course in the Safer Streets Initiative.”

“We have been and continue to be committed to fighting violent crime, and we’re also committed to protecting law abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights,” Nuelle said.