The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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February 12, 2014

Missouri lawmakers push bill nullifying federal gun laws

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A gun bill prized by Missouri Republicans moved forward in the Senate this week, but it carries an amendment that could weaken its appeal with some gun rights supporters.

The bill, which received first-round approval Tuesday night, aims to nullify federal gun rules and would make it a crime for federal law enforcement officials to enforce those laws; doing so would be punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.

Missouri Republicans began pushing for the legislation after President Barack Obama’s call last year for increased background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

Last year’s bill was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, and a veto override attempt was blocked by Senate leaders Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, and Ron Richard, R-Joplin, after Missouri law enforcement officials raised concerns about safety and the Missouri Press Association raised a First Amendment challenge.

Richard, who serves as Senate majority floor leader, had originally said he would personally file a revised bill and make it his top priority this year after effectively killing it during the veto session in September. But Richard is not carrying the bill. He has handed it off to Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, who carried the bill last year.

“As majority leader, I’ve got a lot of jobs to do,” Richard said. “I respect the chairmen to do their job. I’m not going to steal a bill from someone. Everyone is an individual here. My goal is to hear these members’ items and get them debated.”

Nieves’ bill is less specific than last year’s version about which federal laws it seeks to nullify. It removes references to the 1934 and 1968 federal gun control acts, while keeping generic references to fees, registration and tracking policies that are considered “infringements” or “have a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership” of guns and ammunition by law-abiding residents.

On Tuesday night, the Senate accepted an amendment offered by Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, that would require gun owners to report a stolen firearm to law enforcement within 72 hours.

The National Rifle Association has opposed similar legislation nationally for years, saying it would create a de facto gun owner registry and could place “unknown civil liabilities on the gun owner.”

In a notice posted Wednesday on its website, the NRA urged members to call Missouri senators and tell them to vote against the bill.

In addition to the nullification component, the bill would allow some school staff members to be permitted to carry concealed weapons. Democrats successfully added an amendment that would require a public meeting to be held before weapons could be allowed in schools. That provision’s sponsor said he hopes it would cause school districts to think twice before letting guns in the classroom.

“I believe my parents would say we don’t want our teachers to carry guns, and our school board members would then have to look at the consequences of that decision,” said Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City.

Holsman’s amendment also would allow designated personnel to choose to carry pepper spray instead of a weapon.

On the potential qualms for gun advocates, Richard said Missouri is “the poster child for the Second Amendment in the country, and we’ve got a good relationship with the NRA.”

The bill also includes a provision that would allow those with conceal-carry permits to carry a weapon openly, even in cities where it is banned, and it would lower the minimum age for obtaining a permit from 21 to 19.

Nieves, speaking with reporters, said he still feels good about the bill. Lawmakers also could go back and reconsider the legislation they advanced Tuesday night.

“Every time there’s an amendment added to a bill, it changes the dynamic,” Nieves said. “I can live with (Nasheed’s amendment). I wouldn’t raise it on a flagpole and say it is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen, but I can live with it.”

Nieves said he had not heard from the National Rifle Association on the issue, and that it would not matter to him anyway. He said he is comfortable that the bill is constitutional and would withstand a court challenge, despite the federal Supremacy Clause that allows federal laws to trump state laws. Courts have consistently ruled that states cannot nullify federal laws, but that hasn’t stopped Missouri and other states from trying.

“When they’re violating our Second Amendment rights,” Nieves said, “their actions are unconstitutional.”

The measure needs one more affirmative vote in the Senate before heading to the House.

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