Trump-loving Missouri Atty. Gen. Eric Schmitt is promising "we're not going to back down" in a battle with the Department of Justice over the enforcement of federal gun laws in the state.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson recently signed into law the "Second Amendment Preservation Act, which bars police in the state from "enforcing federal gun laws that regulate weapons registration, tracking and possession of firearms by some domestic violence offenders," the Kansas City Star reported.
Schmitt and the Department of Justice have already exchanged sharp letters over the new law. And it has already drawn a rare joint legal challenge from the city of St. Louis and adjoining St. Louis County.
Schmitt, who played a lead role in filing amicus briefs joining the failed Texas and Pennsylvania lawsuits aimed at overturning the 2020 presidential election, was quoted today by the Washington Times about his defiance. He made no secret of the politics behind it.
"This is, in many ways, forward-looking — expecting a very aggressive action on the part of the Biden administration as it relates to the Second Amendment," he said. Schmitt is one of four pro-Trump candidates who have thus far announced their 2022 candidacy for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Roy Blunt.
"The law has been met by outrage and alarm from Democrats and gun control advocates, who have slammed the measure as dangerous in a state with such high rates of gun violence, " the Star reported. "Missouri had the nation's third-highest per-capita rate of gun deaths in 2020."
"St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, a Democrat, said the state law is dangerous, noting that last year was one of the deadliest years in Missouri for gun violence," the Washington Times reported. "Sam Page, the county executive for St. Louis and also a Democrat, said residents of the state must feel safe.
"This new law is like the state holding out a sign that says `Come Commit Gun Violence Here,'" Page said.
The law allows aggrieved parties to sue police and their municipalities for up to $50,000 per occurrence -- especially ironic given the Republicans traditional calls for "tort reform" and their opposition to "defunding the police." And firearm ownership by people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence will now be permitted, in conflict with federal law. The new state law even prohibits local police from hiring former federal agents who had enforced laws declared "invalid" in Missouri, the Star reported.
Schmitt stuck to national GOP talking points in defending the law. Here's how the Times reported it:
"Missouri officials charge the lawsuit is brought by a bunch of progressive politicians who are championing defunding the police," the Times reported.
"This was Missouri putting the marker down saying you won't do this with the Second Amendment," said Mr. Schmitt. "We are confident we will be successful in the St. Louis lawsuit."
"Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard University, said federal law trumps conflicting state law — and that's true for gun laws. He noted the Supreme Court has held gun ownership rights are not absolute and can be subject to reasonable regulations.
"'So, states and municipalities cannot shield their citizens from constitutionally valid federal firearms regulations,'" he said.
"Anders Walker, a law professor at Saint Louis University, said the move by Missouri's leaders is 'political theater.'
"'The governor and the attorney general know there is no conditional basis for this law but they are running on issues that Missourians — especially rural Missourians — believe in and they know it is nonsense, but they are out of issues but they need something to talk about so I think this is just a circus,'" he said.
"But Royce Barondes, a law professor at the University of Missouri, said the federal government does not have the right to commandeer local and state authorities to enforce federal law.
"'By this act, the Missouri Legislature has exercised state authority not to have its localities be commandeered into participating in enforcing certain federal firearms laws. It would appear the state of Missouri has the right to do that," he said.'"
For its part, the DOJ doesn't agree, as laid out in its letter to Parson and Schmitt last week.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton said the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause supersedes the new law. He also warned the law could hamper relationships between the federal government and Missouri."The new law threatens to immediately disrupt the working relationship between federal and state law enforcement officers, many of whom work shoulder-to-shoulder on various joint task forces, for which Missouri receives ample federal grants and other technical assistance," Boynton said. "(It) raises significant concerns under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution."