Some states have legalized weed. Not the feds. Some states call themselves sanctuaries for immigrants, despite the feds controlling immigration and deportation. And some states have laws about allowing the possession of guns, even as the feds want to limit and control it. Each of these scenarios has produced widely different reactions, some based on law but most based on preference.
Gov. Mike Parson signed House Bill 85 at Frontier Justice in Lee’s Summit.
The new law allows state gun laws to surpass federal gun laws and holds police departments liable if an officer violates someone’s second amendment rights.
“It is our time to protect the second amendment,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “This is exactly what this bill does and it’s time to get this thing signed and get it into law.”
If someone’s second amendment right is violated, local law enforcement could pay $50,000.
This law was presumptively enacted in anticipation of federal law that would make certain guns illegal and preclude certain classes of people from possessing guns. What HB 85 does is prohibit police within the state from enforcing federal law. The Department of Justice is not amused.
In a letter sent Wednesday night and obtained by The Associated Press, Justice officials said the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause outweighs the measure that Gov. Mike Parson signed into law Saturday. The new rules penalize local police departments if their officers enforce federal gun laws.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton said the law threatens to disrupt the working relationship between federal and local authorities, they said in the letter, noting that Missouri receives federal grants and technical assistance.
“The public safety of the people of the United States and citizens of Missouri is paramount,” Boynton wrote in the letter.
Is federal law supreme? While marijuana remains a Schedule I drug, the feds have taken the position, for the most part, that they will lay off enforcement in deference to states’ choice to legalize it. In contrast, immigration is a purely federal function in which states have no authority, yet states and cities proclaimed themselves “sanctuaries” where they would no longer cooperate by turning over information or corpus to ICE. Courts have held the feds can’t force states to cooperate in their enforcement efforts, rejecting the withholding of funds to states and cities that won’t play ball.
Are guns any different?
The authority of Congress to legislate gun control stems from the Interstate Commerce Clause, as guns travel across state lines and find their way into Missouri. But once in the Show Me State, who gets to say who may possess them, what they may possess and what conditions can be imposed, or not imposed, on Missouri residents?
The Justice Department argued in the letter that the state lacks the authority to shield any Missouri businesses or citizens from federal law or to prevent federal law enforcement officials from carrying out their duties.
Boynton said the bill “conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulation” and federal law would supersede the state’s new statute. He said federal agents and the U.S. attorney’s offices in the state would continue to enforce all federal firearms laws and regulations. He asked that Parson and Eric Schmitt, the state’s attorney general, clarify the law and how it would work in a response by Friday.
Granted, Missouri law provides neither constraint on federal agents nor defense to federal prosecutions, same as in marijuana cases. Also granted is that the feds can no more compel local police to enforce its law than they could immigration laws. As states and the federal government diverge in their laws, values and interest in cooperation, arguments as presented by AAG Boynton suffer from past precedent and the decisions rendered when states asserting their internal authority to control how their police will deal with disagreeable federal mandates.
If states can refuse to be part of federal immigration enforcement, why not federal gun enforcement, for which federal supremacy is hardly as clear and strong? If the feds can acquiesce to states’ legalization of pot while maintaining it on Schedule I, what legitimacy can be asserted for refusing to acquiesce to states’ support for a fundamental constitutional right?
The law has long been clear that while states can’t limit the rights afforded by the United States Constitution, which provides a floor below which states may not go, they can be more protective of those rights than the federal government. If Missouri chooses to value the Second Amendment rights of its citizens more dearly than the current administration, there appears to be no basis upon which the feds can force the state to do its enforcement bidding, regardless of whether you love or hate the policy. Will that make the Missouri the Shoot Out State? Maybe, but that’s a choice for Missouri to make.
Then again, what Missouri is doing here isn’t just empowering its police to ignore federal law, but prohibiting cooperation with a price tag of $50,000. That may be a step too far should state police choose to comply with federal mandates. Much like the Sanctuary City arguments, the feds can’t force prisons to round up their deportees for them, but the cities can’t prohibit jails and prisons from doing so either.
As the law enforcement schism between states and the federal government widens, and their respective policies are in direct conflict, federalism is tested in ways that few would have imagined just a few years ago. The arguments for and against tend to flip with astounding alacrity (and just a wee bit of hypocrisy) based on which party is in power, but the law that applies to one applies to the other as well. If you loved Sanctuary Cities, do you not love Missouri’s gun laws too?