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Justice Department says Missouri’s gun law is causing ‘significant harm’ to public safety

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson shows off H.B85, which he signed inside Frontier Justice gun shop in Lee's Summit, Mo., on Sat., June 12. The bill prevents local and state law enforcement officials from enforcing federal gun laws.
Carlos Moreno
/
KCUR
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson shows off H.B. 85, which he signed inside Frontier Justice gun shop in Lee's Summit, Mo., on June 12, 2021. The bill prohibits local and state law enforcement officials from enforcing federal gun laws.

The speed with which the United States filed its summary judgment motion suggests it believes Missouri's Second Amendment Preservation Act is a clear violation of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause and is jeopardizing efforts to combat crime.

Just two weeks after suing Missouri over its Second Amendment Preservation Act, the federal government has made the rare move of rapidly asking for summary judgment against Missouri, arguing the law is causing “significant harm” to law enforcement and public safety.

The government's 40-page motion asks the court to issue a judgment declaring the Second Amendment Preservation Act invalid and blocking its enforcement.

“Missouri’s unconstitutional attempt to nullify federal law directly regulates, discriminates against, and affirmatively penalizes the lawful exercise of federal authority,” the motion states. A government spokesperson declined additional comment.

Summary judgment allows a court to circumvent a trial, and it’s rare for a plaintiff to seek summary judgment so soon after filing suit. Typically, motions for summary judgment are brought after both sides have exchanged discovery. For a court to grant it, the material facts of the case must be undisputed and the law, when applied to those facts, entitles the moving party to a judgment on the merits.

The speed with which the United States filed its summary judgment motion suggests it believes SAPA is a clear violation of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause and is jeopardizing efforts to combat crime. The Supremacy Clause establishes that the Constitution and federal laws take priority over any conflicting state laws.

SAPA, which took effect last August, allows private citizens to sue state or local officials for up to $50,000 if they believe their Second Amendment rights have been violated. The law, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed by Gov. Mike Parson on June 12, 2021, is considered one of the most far-reaching gun rights bills enacted in the United States.

Jackson County, St. Louis County and the city of St. Louis have challenged the law in a separate lawsuit in Cole County. After Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green in August issued a two-page ruling declining to block the law, the challengers appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case last month. The high court is expected to issue its ruling within the next few months.

The Justice Department intervened in that case as an interested party, arguing that the law undermined law enforcement activities in Missouri, including partnerships between federal law enforcement and local and state law enforcement.

In its own lawsuit, the government makes many of the same arguments, asserting that SAPA has subverted federal joint task forces and has caused confusion among law enforcement officers.

Because of SAPA, the government says, “many state and local law enforcement agencies have instructed their personnel either to withdraw from participation in joint task forces or to abstain from enforcing particular federal laws even when acting in a federal capacity.”

It says that some state and local task force officers are even disengaging from executing arrest warrants if a gun is found.

In addition, it says SAPA has caused “a breakdown in the United States’ information-sharing networks.” As an example, it says the Missouri Information and Analysis Center, which is operated by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, is now refusing to cooperate with federal agencies pursuing federal firearm offenses.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said in a brief in the Cole County case that since SAPA went into effect, more than 12 law enforcement agencies in Missouri have ended partnerships with it.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, whose office is defending the law, has called the government’s lawsuit “partisan” and said the Biden administration is putting “partisan politics ahead of public safety.”

“Make no mistake,” Schmitt said in a news release two weeks ago, “the law is on our side in this case, and I intend to beat the Biden Administration in court once again.”

Schmitt, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Roy Blunt, and Gov. Parson sent a letter to the Department of Justice last June saying they would 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.”

“We will not stand by while the federal government tries to tell Missourians how to live our lives,” the letter stated. “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.”

As a reporter covering breaking news and legal affairs, I want to demystify often-complex legal issues in order to expose the visible and invisible ways they affect people’s lives. I cover issues of justice and equity, and seek to ensure that significant and often under-covered developments get the attention they deserve so that KCUR listeners and readers are equipped with the knowledge they need to act as better informed citizens. Email me at dan@kcur.org.
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