A new Missouri law that bars local and state law enforcement from enforcing federal gun laws is facing a legal challenge from St. Louis City and County, which are jointly seeking to stop enforcement of the measure.
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Monday said a lawsuit, filed in Cole County Circuit Court, seeks to have the law declared unconstitutional under the state and federal constitutions.
“This new law is like the state holding out a sign that says ‘Come Commit Gun Violence Here,’” Page said in a statement.
The lawsuit represents the most serious threat yet to the new law, called the Second Amendment Preservation Act, which Republican Gov. Mike Parson signed a little more than a week ago. Last week, the Department of Justice sent a letter to Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt challenging the constitutionality of the law. A St. Louis metro area police chief has also resigned, citing its provisions.
The law, which Missouri gun rights advocates had been seeking for years, declares many federal gun regulations, including those covering weapons registration, tracking and possession of firearms by some domestic violence offenders, “invalid” in Missouri.
Local departments risk $50,000 fines if they enforce them. They also are prohibited from assisting federal agents in enforcing laws declared “invalid” and from hiring former federal agents who had enforced them. There are exceptions for cases in which the federal agents are enforcing gun restrictions that also exist in Missouri law.
Jackson County Executive Frank White said Monday he hopes to join the lawsuit. In a letter to the Jackson County Legislature asking for a resolution in support of doing so, White wrote that he was worried the law will prevent local police from working with federal agents and having “the power to track and regulate firearm use.”
“The information from [that power] provides them with an investigative tool to identify suspects in crimes and also potentially prevent crimes from even occurring,” White wrote.
The suit argues that the law violates the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, which provides that federal laws are the “supreme law of the Land.” It seeks an injunction against enforcement of the law.
In a statement, Jones noted last year was the deadliest year of gun violence in Missouri history. The General Assembly is “throwing up barriers” to stop police from doing their most important job of preventing and solving violent crime, she said.
“This harmful and unconstitutional law takes away tools our communities need to prevent gun violence. I’m proud to partner with St. Louis County in this effort to protect our region and stop this law,” Jones said.
Schmitt, who is the seeking the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, has vocally defended the law. On Monday, his office signaled he will aggressively defend the measure in court as well.
“At the same time they’re attempting to defund the police, progressive politicians have filed this partisan lawsuit in an attempt to infringe on the Second Amendment rights of law abiding Missourians,” Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said in a statement. “We will continue our efforts to prosecute violent crime, and we will not shy away from defending the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Last week, the Department of Justice warned Schmitt and Parson the measure “conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulation” and threatens the federal government’s working relationship with local police, the Associated Press reported. The two men responded by accusing Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration of trying to “tell Missourians how to live our lives.”
Critics of the law warned this spring the measure would violate the Supremacy Clause, and the DOJ letter noted the clause trumps state law. But Parson and Schmitt have cited the Tenth Amendment, which says that powers not specifically granted to the federal government reside with the states and the people.
Even as a legal fight begins, the law has already led to real-world consequences. The police chief in O’Fallon in St. Charles County resigned late last week, citing “poor wording and future unintended consequences” of the law.
“I’m not willing to risk my family’s financial future on a poorly written piece of legislation that opens me and my fellow officers up to being sued even when they act lawfully and appropriately,” Chief Philip Dupuis said in a statement.
The Star’s Jeanne Kuang contributed reporting