By Wally Kennedy
A bill before Missouri lawmakers would exempt the state from any federal gun control regulations that are imposed by executive order or by Congress.
House Bill No. 170, introduced by Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, in anticipation of President Obama’s signing on Wednesday of 23 executive orders related to gun control, would make it a Class D felony for Missouri authorities or firearms dealers to enforce any federal law relating to a personal gun or accessories.
The bill would attempt to nullify federal gun-control rules the state believes to be beyond the federal government’s constitutional powers. The theory of nullification legally has never been upheld.
The courts have found that under the supremacy clause of the Constitution, federal law is superior to state law, and that under Article III of the Constitution, the federal judiciary has the final power to interpret the Constitution.
Guernsey’s bill pretty much follows a bill Wyoming lawmakers have taken up. It says the federal government cannot take away a state’s rights for its residents to bear arms. The Wyoming bill, if passed, would hit federal agents with up to five years in prison and a $50,000 fine for attempting to enforce such bans in Wyoming.
But the Missouri legislation is different in one way. Instead of threatening to imprison federal agents, the law threatens gun dealers who follow federal law.
House Bill No. 170 has the potential, if passed, to put gun dealers in the crossfire. If they obey federal law, gun dealers would become felons in Missouri. If they disobey federal law, they would become federal felons.
On Wednesday, gun dealers had little time to react to the introduction of the legislation in Missouri. As Steve Richards, owner of Steve’s Trading Post, 4324 S. Main St., put it: “It’s been an interesting time in the firearms business and that was especially true after 10 a.m. (Wednesday).’’
Richards and other gun dealers in the Joplin market said they were swamped with business after President Obama’s remarks on the executive orders he would sign and the gun-control legislation he would submit to Congress.
Richards said he had not seen the state bill, but felt certain state legislators were “trying to do something helpful — to protect us.’’ He said gun dealers do not want to be put in the position of violating either state or federal laws.
“That would be an interesting scenario,” he said. “Someone wants to purchase a high-capacity firearm and the state comes in and says we’re a felon for not selling it to them. “What we need is a reasonable legal process where judges would look at these things.’’
He said he expects both federal and state laws will be thrown out on certain issues.
“We could go into a lockdown situation that would restrict what we do on certain items,’’ he said. “I plan on meeting with federal firearms attorneys that do nothing but that next Tuesday to get clarification. I need professional legal guidance.’’
Richards said the gun-control laws that are proposed at the federal level “will certainly be challenged by a huge group of NRA members and gun dealers. They will be well funded.’’
Five Republican representatives from Southwest Missouri — Bill Reiboldt, Bill Lant, Tom Flanigan, Charlie Davis and Bill White — are among the 60 or so legislators who have signed on as co-sponsors of House Bill No. 170.
In interviews on Wednesday, the legislators said they were responding to constituents’ views that overwhelmingly oppose any form of federal gun control.
Lant said, “This bill has not even hit a committee yet. It’s a long, long way from a final bill of any type. The intent here is to let people know that we are willing to mirror what Wyoming is doing, if need be.
“Our state is very pro Second Amendment and Southwest Missouri probably more so than any part of the state. We are making a statement with this bill, which has a lot of co-signers. They are letting their constituents know we are upholding the Second Amendment in Missouri.’’
White said he does not expect any backlash because of his support of the bill, which, he said, “preserves a Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Private gun ownership is to be protected. This is what I stand for.’’
He said his constituent mail — about six to 10 emails — has “overwhelmingly urged the Legislature to protect gun ownership rights. But I want to listen to all of my constituents.’’
White said House Bill No. 170 is a good starting point, but noted he did not want to see “the arrest of an FBI agent in our state.’’ He said he expects the bill to receive bipartisan support from conservative Democrats.
Flanigan said he is representing his constituents who are showing overwhelming support of the bill.
“I have had nothing but positive responses asking me to co-sponsor this bill that was introduced in Wyoming,” he said. “I have had zero calls in opposition to the bill.
Flanigan said the bill, if passed, would be constitutional until proved otherwise.
Davis said, “It is very evident where the vast majority of my constituents stand. We in the state of Missouri believe what we do in our state the federal government should not hinder or stop. This is a states’ rights issue.
“If 80 percent of my constituents were against this, I would reconsider my stance on this. But that won’t happen because of the demographics of Southwest Missouri. And, Democrats on the other side of the aisle are in favor of this. We understand how to regulate our state better than the federal government does. I believe in local control.’’
Reiboldt said, “This is more of a states’ rights bill in that it would not allow the federal government to infringe upon our Second Amendment rights. There’s going to be a lot of amending, perfecting and considerations before we get it where we want it to be. But, it’s a starting place.
“My mail is running 50-to-1 in support of this.’’