A Missouri law that would have penalized police for enforcing federal gun laws was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge Tuesday, handing a win to the Biden administration Department of Justice that filed suit against the law last year.
The DOJ alleged the law was undermining federal drug and weapons investigators by placing heavy fines of up to $50,000 on police departments if they “infringed” on Missourians’ Second Amendment rights by following any federal laws.
The Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) was ruled “invalid, null, void and of no effect” by U.S. District Court Judge Brian Wimes, an Obama appointee.
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said in a statement on social media he plans to appeal the court’s ruling at the Eighth Circuit Court and expects a “better result” there.
“As Attorney General, I will protect the Constitution, which includes defending Missourians’ fundamental right to bear arms,” he said in a Twitter thread. “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.”
Second Amendment Preservation Act
Signed into law by Missouri Gov. Mike Parson in June 2021, the law declares invalid all federal laws infringing on the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Missouri Constitution.
The act defined infringements as “certain taxes, certain registration and tracking laws, certain prohibitions on the possession, ownership, use, or transfer of a specific type of firearm, and confiscation orders.”
The act declared “that federal supremacy does not apply to federal laws that restrict or prohibit the manufacture, ownership, and use of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition within the state because such laws exceed the scope of the federal government’s authority.”
It further imposed the duty of protecting the rights of “law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms” in the hands of courts and law enforcement agencies in the state.
“Under this act, no public officer or state or local employee has the authority to enforce firearms laws declared invalid by the act. However, state employees may accept aid from federal officials in an effort to enforce Missouri laws. Sovereign immunity shall not be an affirmative defense under this act.”
The fine for a public officer or state or local employee who attempted to enforce the law deemed invalid by the act became subject to a penalty of “$50,000 per employee hired by the law enforcement agency.”
The act did not make it a violation to aid federal officials in pursuit of a suspect in certain cases, including felony crimes involving weapons violations and controlled substance violations.
Challenged by DOJ
In its suit against the state’s law, the DOJ argued the Act violated the U.S. Constitution by ignoring federal supremacy as the act stated. On top of seeking the act be nullified, the DOJ sought a declaration that state and local officials may participate in federal task forces or investigations without fear of penalty.
In 2022, the DOJ filed a lawsuit arguing Missouri’s law has undermined federal drug and weapons investigations.
“The United States’ law enforcement operations have been affected through withdrawals from and/or limitations on cooperation in joint federal-state task forces, restrictions on sharing information, confusion about the validity of federal law in light of SAPA, and discrimination against federal employees and those deputized for federal law enforcement who lawfully enforce federal law,” court documents claimed.
A federal agent in charge of the Kansas City Field Division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) claimed in an affidavit submitted to the court in a separate lawsuit that a dozen state and local officers withdrew from participating in ATF task forces at least in part because of the law, according to The Missouri Independent.
Wimes said in the ruling that federal law cannot be nullified by any state law and that Missouri legislators are aware of that.
“SAPA’s practical effects are counterintuitive to its stated purpose,” Wimes wrote. “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.”
Wimes added state and local law enforcement officials in the state may join federal task forces, assist in the investigation and enforcement of federal firearm crimes, and fully share information with the federal government without fear of penalty.
“The States of Missouri and its officers, agents, and employees and any others in active concert with such individuals are prohibited from any and all implementation and enforcement of H.B. 85.”