Dueling Petitions Filed Over Gun Rights in Missouri

Local weapon control ordinances are subject to four petitions sent to Secretary of State.
Dueling Petitions Filed Over Gun Rights in Missouri
A retired police officer fires a gun at the Ultimate Defense Firing Range and Training Center in St Peters, Missouri, in a Nov. 26, 2014. (Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Clements

A group called Sensible Missouri has filed three initiative petitions with Missouri’s Secretary of State for referendum elections to let local officials implement gun control laws.

A St. Louis businessman and political candidate has filed his own petition and sued to stop the plans.

“Nothing that they’re talking about is going to stop gun violence,” Paul Berry III told The Epoch Times.

Mr. Berry referred to three petitions filed by a judge and attorney, Jimmie Edwards, that would allow local governments to regulate firearms within their jurisdictions. Mr. Edwards is with Lashley and Baer P.C. of St. Louis.

Mr. Edwards did not return emails or telephone calls seeking comment.

According to Mr. Berry, the petitions were filed in response to the inability of St. Louis city leaders to pass local gun control ordinances.

Mr. Edwards's three petitions request referendum elections to allow Jackson County, St. Louis County, and the cities of Kansas City, and St. Louis to set their own gun control laws.
 St. Louis businessman Paul Berry III in an undated photo. (Courtesy of Paul Berry III)
St. Louis businessman Paul Berry III in an undated photo. (Courtesy of Paul Berry III)

In all three petitions, the laws for the named cities would go into effect as soon as they were enacted. One of the petitions, 2024-115, would require counties other than the two named in the petition to hold referendums before the gun-control ordinances were implemented.

On its website Sensible Missouri, which supports Mr. Edwards’s petitions, claims urban areas should be able to regulate guns since they differ significantly from rural areas.

“The use of guns in rural Missouri is different from the use of guns in urbanized communities. Therefore, we need the ability to regulate guns at the local level,” the website reads.

Mr. Berry said the Missouri Constitution prohibits most local regulations concerning firearms. He said if Mr. Edwards’ petitions were successful, Missourians would have to follow different laws depending on which county or city they were in.

“If you had 114 counties, you could have 114 different gun laws. Gun laws are a Constitutional right, and they should apply wherever you are from, whether you’re the governor or a homeless person,” Mr. Berry said.

Mr. Berry has filed a petition to prohibit local governments from regulating firearms in any manner that might conflict with the U.S. Constitution or the Missouri Constitution.

Berry Filed Lawsuit

His proposed regulation would also require anyone younger than 18 to have parental permission to carry a firearm, with a few exceptions. These include emergencies or for those people in the military.

He’s also challenging Mr. Edwards’s petitions in Cole County District Court based on their language and estimates of their cost to taxpayers if they become law.

In his lawsuit, he says the petitions are “insufficient and unclear” according to state law and should be struck down.

Missouri law requires each petition to contain fiscal notes from the state auditor showing the proposed law's financial impact on the state.

Mr. Berry says Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick's fiscal notes show that each of Mr. Edwards’s proposals could cost taxpayers up to $7.5 million in increased litigation.

According to the notes, other state and local governmental entities estimated no costs or savings.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey said both estimates are wildly incorrect.

 Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey speaks to his staff in March 2023. (Courtesy of the Missouri Attorney General's Office)
Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey speaks to his staff in March 2023. (Courtesy of the Missouri Attorney General's Office)

“The AGO currently estimates the fiscal impact will be at least $704.14 million, but it could be more. As the AGO continues its legal and fiscal analysis of these misguided proposals, it will update the Auditor’s Office if new data becomes available,” the analysis from Mr. Bailey’s office reads.

In a statement to The Epoch Times, Mr. Bailey said his analysis shows why he supports the Second Amendment.

“I will always defend Missourians’ right to keep and bear arms protected in our state and federal constitutions,” his statement reads.

In his lawsuit, Mr. Berry argues that Mr. Fitzpatrick "rubber stamped" all the estimates he received except those from Mr. Bailey.

He wants Cole County Judge Cotton Walker to rule the petitions unconstitutional and order the state to reject them. Alternatively, he wants the ballot summary and fiscal notes revised.

Mr. Berry said the petitions filed by Mr. Edwards were the next step in a plan to crack down on Missourians’ gun rights that began last August.

 St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (C) speaks during a news conference at the Wohl Recreation Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 18, 2023. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (C) speaks during a news conference at the Wohl Recreation Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 18, 2023. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP)

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones and the city’s Board of Aldermen were considering local gun-control measures at that time.

According to an online statement, Ms. Jones met with St. Louis Police Chief Robert Tracy, Office of Violence Prevention Director Wil Pinkney, and five of St. Louis’s 14 aldermen to talk with “gun violence survivors and advocates” on the same day Mr. Bailey sent her a letter warning that local efforts at gun control would likely run afoul of the Missouri Constitution.

“In the coming days, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office, aldermen are ready to introduce commonsense gun safety legislation. We come together around a shared vision: a safer, stronger St. Louis, ready to stand up for our values.

"We know Missourians are demanding state-level action to pass measures like red-flag laws and background checks, but we are ready to try every tool available to us at the local level to protect families from gun violence,” the statement quotes Ms. Jones as saying.

Her plan called for the prohibition of “military-grade weapons” but did not define “military-grade weapons.”

It would also prevent transferring or selling guns to minors, regulate privately made firearms (so-called “ghost guns”), prohibit insurrectionists and those convicted of hate crimes from having guns, and prepare St. Louis for Blair’s Law.

Blair’s Law is legislation setting charges and penalties for reckless discharge of a firearm. That bill was written in honor of 11-year-old Blair Shanahanlane, who was killed when he was struck in the neck by a stray bullet during Independence Day celebrations on July 4, 2011.

City Plan 'Illegal'

Last July, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson vetoed legislation that contained Blair’s Law because other provisions had been added, including language that could reduce the penalties for possessing child pornography.

In the letter to Ms. Jones, Mr. Bailey advised that the city’s plan was illegal.

“The people’s elected representatives have already spoken on this issue by preempting local authority in state statute. To implement your plan would be to violate Missouri law,” Mr. Bailey wrote.

He closed his letter by encouraging Ms. Jones to use the resources she already has to fight crime in her city rather than place more regulations on law-abiding gun owners.

“I encourage you to go after criminals, not guns. As the Attorney General for the State of Missouri, I will discharge my duties under the Constitution and resist any effort to infringe on the right of the people of Missouri to keep and bear arms,” the letter reads.

Michael Clements focuses mainly on the Second Amendment and individual rights for The Epoch Times. He has more than 30 years of experience in print journalism, having worked at newspapers in Alabama, Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma. He is based in Durant, Oklahoma.