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Federal judge strikes down Missouri gun-rights law

A federal judge has struck down Missouri’s Second Amendment Protection Act, finding the law to be “an impermissible nullification attempt that violates the Supremacy Clause” of the U.S. Constitution.

“SAPA’s practical effects are counterintuitive to its stated purpose,” U.S. District Judge Brian C. Wimes wrote in a March 7 order. “While purporting to protect citizens, SAPA exposes citizens to greater harm by interfering with the Federal Government’s ability to enforce lawfully enacted firearms regulations designed by Congress for the purpose of protecting citizens within the limits of the Constitution.”

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey immediately said he would appeal the ruling.

“As Attorney General, I will protect the Constitution, which includes defending Missourians’ fundamental right to bear arms,” Bailey said in a statement. “We are prepared to defend this statute to the highest court and we anticipate a better result at the Eighth Circuit. The Second Amendment is what makes the rest of the amendments possible. If the state legislature wants to expand upon the foundational rights codified in the Second Amendment, they have the authority to do that. But SAPA is also about the Tenth Amendment. It’s about federalism and individual liberty, so we will be appealing the court’s ruling.”

In a joint statement, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Jackson County Executive Frank White Jr., who also are challenging the law, hailed the ruling.

“A bipartisan majority of Missourians want the state legislature to enact common-sense gun safety measures, like red flag laws and background checks, to help keep families across our state safe,” they said.” But year after year, Jefferson City politicians have continued to pass dangerous bills that make it more difficult to prevent gun violence in our communities. HB 85 makes it harder for police to do their jobs and strips away critical tools we need to protect our neighborhoods. We are encouraged by the federal court ruling today declaring it unconstitutional.”

Missouri lawmakers passed the sweeping gun-rights bill in 2021 to forbid state resources and state personnel from being used to enforce federal firearms laws and regulations that aren’t “substantially similar” to existing Missouri laws. It also imposes a $50,000 civil fine on political subdivisions or law enforcement agencies whose agents enforce such federal regulations or give “material aid and support” to other entities that do.

Several Missouri cities and counties are challenging the law in circuit courts in the city of St. Louis and Jefferson County. The U.S. government brought a separate challenge in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Wimes granted summary judgment to the federal government, finding that it had standing to challenge the law because it has hampered the efforts of federal-state task forces and restricted sharing information with local law enforcement.

Although the law purports to operate only within the state of Missouri, Wimes said the state cannot attempt to invalidate federal laws. The law, he wrote, conflicts with several provisions of the 1934 National Firearms Act and the 1968 Gun Control Act. SAPA defines “infringements” to include any “tax, levy, fee, or stamp” imposed on firearms and their accessories and the registration or tracking of firearms or gun ownership, among other things.

The law also violates the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity, the judge wrote, because it exposes officials to penalties for trying to enforce valid federal laws.

“At best, this statute causes confusion among state law enforcement officials who are deputized for federal task force operations, and at worst, is unconstitutional on its face,” he wrote. “While Missouri cannot be compelled to assist in the enforcement of federal regulations within the state, it may not regulate federal law enforcement or otherwise interfere with its operations. By declaring federal firearms regulations invalid as to the state, [SAPA] violates intergovernmental immunity on its face.”

The case is U.S. v. State of Missouri, 2:22-cv-04022.

Updated to add a joint statement by leaders of St. Louis City and County and Jackson County.