Missouri responds defiantly to Justice Dept. over gun law

Missouri State Capitol No Words

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — 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.

(Previous article: Justice Dept.: Missouri governor can’t void federal gun laws)

Gov. Mike Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt wrote that they still plan to enforce the new law, which Parson signed Saturday. The measure would 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.

“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.

Prosecutors in Missouri’s attorney general’s office have already withdrawn from nearly two dozen federal drug, gun and carjacking cases in St. Louis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.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. Attorneys from Schmitt’s office were deputized as assistant U.S. attorneys to help prosecute violent crimes.

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. But state Democrats argued that it is unconstitutional and would 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.