Biden DOJ sues Missouri over Second Amendment Preservation Act

Michael Reynolds/Pool via AP

You may have noticed the news stories on Tuesday of this week proclaiming that gun control activists were disappointed and frustrated with the lack of action on their issue coming from the White House. I’m pretty sure the White House noticed them as well, because just a day later, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced a new lawsuit against the state of Missouri over its Second Amendment Preservation Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson last year.

“This act impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement after the suit was filed in Kansas City federal court. “The United States will work to ensure that our state and local law enforcement partners are not penalized for doing their jobs to keep our communities safe.”

Biden administration officials had threatened to file the lawsuit for months. They first outlined their stance in support of a state case brought last year by local officials in the St. Louis area who claimed that the law hindered them from addressing the recent spike in gun violence.

I take issue with the New York Times’ framing here, because the Biden administration hasn’t spent the past few months threatening a lawsuit. In fact, the DOJ could have filed suit long before now, but have been content to support the St. Louis-based lawsuit right up until this week.

So what prompted the filing now? Missouri’s Attorney General has a theory.

The suit came two days after lawyers in the Missouri case began wrapping up their closing arguments before the state Supreme Court, and Republicans were quick to suggest the Justice Department’s suit was intended to pre-empt a possible loss in the state court.

“After their disastrous arguments in the Missouri Supreme Court last week, the Biden Department of Justice has now filed yet another partisan lawsuit that seeks to attack Missourians’ Second Amendment rights,” said Attorney General Eric Schmitt of Missouri, a Republican who supported passage of the law.

“Make no mistake, the law is on our side in this case, and I intend to beat the Biden administration in court,” added Mr. Schmitt, who recently joined a crowded field of conservatives running for the Senate seat soon to be vacated by the longtime senator Roy Blunt.

There’s no doubt that since the passage of the Second Amendment Preservation Act some Missouri police departments have chosen to pull back or curtail working with federal agencies, professing concern that officers could end up being sued for enforcing federal gun control laws.

Schmitt and other defenders of the law say that the language is being misread, and I tend to agree. These are the no-go areas for local law enforcement under the current language of SAPA, which as you can tell, is predicated on preventing cooperation with any federal agency who

The following federal acts, laws, executive orders, administrative orders, rules, and regulations shall be considered infringements on the people’s right to keep and bear arms, as guaranteed by Amendment II of the Constitution of the United States and Article I, Section 23 of the Constitution of Missouri, within the borders of this state including, but not limited to:

(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 the statute preventing local police from working with the ATF, DEA, or other federal agencies from going after drug offenders or even violent criminals. Most of these restrictions specifically mention “law-abiding citizens,” which suggests to me that that the intent of the legislation was to stop local law enforcement from cooperating with federal officials on any new, non-violent possessory offenses that the Biden administration (or future administrations) might put in place.

Clearly there are differing opinions about the scope of the law, but given the fact that there’s already multiple state-based lawsuits (in addition to the suit filed by St. Louis-area officials, another group of police departments has sued the state asking for clarity about when and how they can work with federal agencies), there’s no real reason for Merrick Garland and the DOJ to file a suit of their own in federal court right now, other than being able to tell anti-gun activists that they’re “doing something” on their issue. The head of the DOJ’s Civil Division told the New York Times this is really about standing on principle, but based on the timing here it looks like pure politics to me.