Missouri’s Second Amendment Preservation Act, which forbids state and local law enforcement agencies from cooperating with the federal government in enforcing federal gun laws that aren’t mirrored in state statute, has drawn fire from gun control groups as well as some police chiefs and sheriffs since the law was just a bill, but so far the legislative language has been upheld by the state courts.
The new law was challenged by the city of St. Louis and several surrounding counties shortly after the law took effect last year, and Attorney General Merrick Garland has sided with the plaintiffs in court filings while avoiding bringing a direct legal challenge at the federal level. Lower courts have refused to block the enforcement of the law, but on Monday the state’s top court will hear oral arguments and attorneys for St. Louis will be arguing that SAPA is getting in the way of taking criminals off the streets and should be put on ice.
In written arguments to the high court appealing a Cole County circuit court ruling, attorneys for St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jackson County argue SAPA has caused disruptions in federal-state law enforcement cooperation in Missouri.
“Violent crime involving the use of firearms is an endemic problem in Missouri, and the problem is particularly acute in St. Louis and Kansas City,” the attorneys wrote. “The participation of plaintiffs’ law enforcement officers in federal task forces is important in suppressing violent crime.”
The attorneys for the city and the two counties also say the law could put them at risk of the $50,000 penalty if they hire certain former federal agents or police officers.
“This section also seeks to limit plaintiffs’ ability to hire as county or city officers former officers from other jurisdictions within or outside Missouri who participated in any law enforcement activity with federal authorities that incidentally or intentionally involved enforcing federal gun laws, and it imposes penalties if plaintiffs hire or retain such individuals,” the brief notes. This is exactly the sort of micromanagement of constitutional charter cities and counties that the Constitution forbids.”
In his own written reply to the court, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt says that the plaintiffs are misreading the law and creating a problem of their own devising. Rather than placing police departments at risk of $50,000 fines if they hire former federal agents, Schmitt argues that the text of the law makes it clear that those fines would only come into play if the state or local law enforcement agency knowingly hired someone who had themselves knowingly violated the 2A rights of Missouri residents.
In fact, as I’ve argued in the past, I think the supposed issues surrounding SAPA are mostly overblown. Just look at the actual text of SAPA that details what federal laws are off-limits to state and local enforcement and cooperation.
(1) Any tax, levy, fee, or stamp imposed on firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition not common to all other goods and services and that might reasonably be expected to create a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership of those items by law-abiding citizens;
(2) Any registration or tracking of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition;
(3) Any registration or tracking of the ownership of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition;
(4) Any act forbidding the possession, ownership, use, or transfer of a firearm, firearm accessory, or ammunition by law-abiding citizens; and
(5) Any act ordering the confiscation of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition from law-abiding citizens.
There’s nothing in SAPA that prevents state or local agencies from partnering with the DEA, or even the ATF for that matter, in going after violent criminals, drug dealers who may be armed, or anyone other than “law-abiding citizens.”
In addition to the lawsuit that the Missouri Supreme Court will hear on Monday, several dozen police chiefs around the state have recently filed a lawsuit of their own to (in their words) get clarity about the scope of SAPA. Hopefully the high court will swiftly deliver that clarification in an opinion upholding the Second Amendment Preservation Act; state and local police can and should continue to work with federal agencies, as long as that cooperation doesn’t involve infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens.