JEFFERSON CITY, MO—Missouri Republican legislative leaders appear uninterested in revising a new Second Amendment law at the request of a police group that says the measure makes it harder for local law enforcement to apprehend suspects in gun-related crimes.
The Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) was a victory for GOP politicians and gun rights activists when it passed last year. It was buoyed by lawmakers' desire to push back on gun control measures promised by President Joe Biden's administration. SAPA declares certain federal gun laws "invalid" if they do not have an equivalent in Missouri statutes and prohibits local police from helping federal agents to enforce them.
Senior Republicans said Thursday, in essence, that they like the law the way it is.
"There was certainly a lot of broad support in our caucus for that last year," Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican, told reporters Thursday. "To do anything ... it's probably a bit of a tough one."
Under SAPA, police departments are subject to $50,000 lawsuits from private citizens who believe their Second Amendment rights were violated. That has led Missouri police to halt a variety of routine practices that involve either firearms or the federal government. They include withdrawing from joint efforts to enforce gun or drug laws, cutting off the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from shell casing information gathered at crime scenes and, in some cases, barring officers from even talking to federal agents without permission.
The Biden administration has called the law unconstitutional. Last month, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing that the Missouri State Highway Patrol released a federal fugitive in September after a traffic stop rather than turn them over to federal agents, in order not to violate the Second Amendment law. There were no details provided about the incident.
The Missouri Police Chiefs Association wrote to lawmakers in November asking them to amend the law, which the group said has "caused confusion and potentially unintended legal implications." The chiefs are asking for clarity on which federal gun-related laws police are allowed to enforce, and for lawmakers to specify that the statute does not apply to suspects whom police encounter actively committing a crime.
Gov. Mike Parson has said he is open to revisiting the law, but its sponsors are not persuaded by the police departments' objections. House Speaker Rob Vescovo echoed the sentiment Wednesday when asked whether he would entertain the police group's request.
"I think I'd disagree with some of their assessments," Vescovo, an Arnold Republican, said. "And that's where I'm at today."
Rowden said he hasn't seen a proposal that would "fix the problem that supposedly we're creating."
"If you look at the language and figure out if it does what they say, and if it still keeps the bulk of the bill intact and does what we wanted to do, I would say nothing's off the table yet," he said. "But I certainly think the devil's in the details on that."
The Missouri Supreme Court is set in February to hear a case seeking to overturn the law, brought by the city of St. Louis and Jackson and St. Louis counties. The local governments argue the law has hindered their law enforcement efforts.
Democrats also will attempt to revise the law this legislative session. On Thursday Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, an Independence Democrat, filed a bill to repeal sections that bar police from aiding federal gun enforcement. He's calling it the "Back the Blue Act."
"My bill is the real deal that will allow police officers to do their jobs and work with federal partners to stop gun violence, to catch criminals and keep men and women in uniform safe," he said.
The proposal also would allow courts to bar people under restraining orders from possessing guns and prohibit those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from having firearms, closing what advocates call a loophole in Missouri gun laws.
Missouri law prohibits only felons from possessing guns. Federal law extends the ban to all domestic violence offenders — a provision scarcely enforced in the state for years after lawmakers removed the requirement to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Now, under the new Second Amendment law, the federal ban would also be considered "invalid." Bipartisan efforts to close the loophole failed last year.
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