WASHINGTON — The Justice Department announced Wednesday that it’s suing the state of Missouri over a new gun rights law that blocks local police from enforcing certain federal firearms measures and has been decried by critics as unconstitutional.
The Second Amendment Preservation Act, which went into effect in August, is considered among the most wide-reaching gun rights bills in the United States. The law, passed by the state’s GOP-led legislature and signed by the Republican governor, allows private citizens to sue local jurisdictions or governments for $50,000 if they believe their Second Amendment rights have been violated.
In a lawsuit filed in a federal court in Kansas City, Mo., the Justice Department argues that the law is unconstitutional because it attempts to supersede federal law. The Missouri law rules that federal gun measures that don’t have an equivalent in state law are “invalid.” Some federal measures covered in the state law involve weapons registration and tracking, as well as gun possession by some domestic-violence offenders.
“This act impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “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.”
The lawsuit against the state names Missouri Republican Governor Mike Parson and Missouri Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt as defendants. Representatives for Parson and Schmitt, who is running for the US Senate this year, did not immediately respond to requests for comment early Thursday. Parson defended the state law to The Washington Post in August, saying the measure is “about protecting law-abiding Missourians against government overreach and unconstitutional federal mandates.”
"We will 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," he said in a statement at the time. "Throughout my career, I have always stood for the Constitution and our Second Amendment rights, and that will not change today or any day."
Schmitt on Wednesday accused the Biden administration of "time and again" putting "partisan politics ahead of public safety."
"Make no mistake, the law is on our side in this case, and I intend to beat the Biden administration in court once again," he said in a statement.
The litigation against Missouri comes at a time when gun laws and bills in the Show Me State have faced public scrutiny. A bill recently proposed by a Republican lawmaker would alter self-defense laws in the state and establish that any use of "physical or deadly force" would be presumed to be self-defense. The bill has won support from Republicans and supporters such as Mark McCloskey, an attorney who gained national attention after he and his wife pointed firearms at Black Lives Matter protesters marching past their home in St. Louis in 2020. While proponents say the bill would shield citizens from unfair prosecution, critics have decried the proposal as the "Make Murder Legal Act."
The Second Amendment Preservation Act has been a point of contention for the Justice Department for months.
In August, the department asked a court to block the law because it undermined public safety. In an affidavit, an official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives asserted that a dozen local officers in Missouri withdrew from participating in ATF task forces at least in part because of the law. Several state and local law enforcement agencies indicated they would no longer input data into a national system that helps investigators match ballistics evidence with crimes across the nation, according to the affidavit.
The Justice Department argued at the time that the law "will continue to cause, significant harms to law enforcement within the State of Missouri."
The department maintained in its lawsuit that the law "prohibits state and local officers who have been deputized as federal officers from enforcing federal firearm laws." The Justice Department stated that the measure is hindering law enforcement efforts in Missouri, where "nearly 80 percent of violent crimes are committed with firearms."
"The Missouri law has had a harmful impact on public safety efforts within the state," the agency stated in the lawsuit. "Critical information that state and local offices previously shared with federal law enforcement officers to facilitate public safety and law enforcement is now frequently unavailable to federal law enforcement agencies in the same manner."
A separate state lawsuit seeking to overturn the law is still pending in Missouri Supreme Court after oral arguments were heard this month. It’s unclear when the state could rule in that lawsuit filed by the City of St. Louis and St. Louis and Jackson counties.
Missouri Republicans have repeatedly stated the law does not prohibit federal officers from doing their job. But the Justice Department complaint alleges the Missouri law violates the supremacy clause of the US Constitution.