By Susan Redden
A bill that pits the state of Missouri against the federal government when it comes to guns also could put in the cross hairs organizations that distribute information about crimes involving guns.
The Missouri Press Association is asking Gov. Jay Nixon to veto a sweeping gun rights bill passed by Missouri lawmakers in the last session, citing a provision that would prohibit the written or electronic publication of information that identifies gun owners.
“If a newspaper would report on a residential robbery and say that 10 guns were stolen, that implies the homeowner is a gun owner, and the publication could be charged with a misdemeanor,” said Doug Crews, MPA executive director. “This bill would have a lot of unintended consequences.”
Crews said MPA officials believe the measure, called the Second Amendment Protection Act, “is unconstitutional, because it is prior restraint. We think it goes against the Missouri Constitution and the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.”
Nixon, a Democrat, has vetoed a number of bills passed in the last session and must make the last of those decisions by July 14.
Several Joplin area lawmakers who were interviewed Monday said they would vote to override if the governor were to veto the bill. They said the bill was not intended to prevent reporting on guns or gun violence, and that any unintended consequence of the measure could be fixed in the next session.
Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said the basis of the prohibition was lawmakers’ concerns that information on concealed-gun permits was being shared by the Missouri Department of Revenue, and actions by a newspaper that published a list of gun owners after the massacre in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Since the measure is a House bill, any attempt to override a potential veto would have to originate with the House, Richard said. He said if that happens, he would join with those who vote to override. The Legislature convenes in September to consider overriding vetoes.
Reps. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City; Tom Flanigan, R-Carthage; and Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, said they support the measure and would support any necessary fix to ensure that the bill did not restrict the First Amendment.
“We don’t want a bill to protect gun owners and take away freedom of the press at the same time,” Reiboldt said.
“We can always go back and fix problems,” Davis said. “But if the bill is vetoed, I believe it will be overridden. There are a lot of Democrats who believe as strongly in the Second Amendment as Republicans.”
Flanigan pointed out that the measure passed 116-38 in the House and said he did not believe provisions of the bill “were intended to infringe on anyone’s ability to report the news.”
“That’s one element of a bill that addresses a lot of different areas, and I think that’s an overreach in interpretation,” he said.
Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, agreed: “I see reporting as different from publishing a list. I don’t see it as preventing the news media from reporting the news.”
If that element were challenged, White said, he thinks the courts “would be looking at a common-sense interpretation.”
White, an attorney, said he believes the bill will end up in court because of provisions that nullify federal gun laws.
“I think it will go to court, and anything that supersedes federal law will have a difficult time,” he said.
The bill, among other provisions, would prohibit enforcement of federal gun laws in Missouri, and would allow firearms training and protection in public schools.
A TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY VOTE in each chamber is required to override a veto by the governor. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in each chamber. The gun measure passed the Senate by a vote of 26-6.