Missouri’s gun lovers were confident of eventual victory when the General Assembly in early 2013 overwhelmingly endorsed the Second Amendment Preservation Act.
The Republican-dominated House had approved the measure, aimed at nullifying federal gun laws in Missouri, in mid-April by a 115-41 vote. That was a supposed veto-proof decision. (It takes 109 House votes to reach the two-thirds level of overriding a governor’s veto.)
The GOP-controlled Senate approved House Bill 436 in early May with another veto-proof majority, 26-6. (It takes 23 Senate votes to override a veto.)
At that point, even the law’s most ardent detractors were resigned that it would become law in a state where too many legislators are cowed by a gaggle of gun lovers.
Yet on Wednesday, in the most shocking development in the Missouri General Assembly’s hectic one-day session, Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of HB 436 was sustained. So this most disgusting of pro-gun bills won’t become law.
Here are three key, even brilliant, moments in how Nixon and other critics killed HB 436.
• On July 5, Nixon issued a blistering criticism of the measure, aiming much of it at the unconstitutional notion that state law could trump federal gun laws.
It was the first move in Nixon’s effective campaign over the next two months to highlight the measure’s many weaknesses. A big one was that it would force local officials to arrest any federal officials trying to enforce U.S. weapons laws.
Nixon also personalized his veto with a message that caught the attention of the media and regular folk.
He pointed out that, “Under this bill, newspaper editors around the state that annually publish photos of proud young Missourians who harvest their first turkey or deer could be charged with a crime.”
• On Sept. 3, barely a week before the veto session began, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster finally released his review of HB 436, something he had been dared/cajoled to do by Republicans.
Koster’s letter burned the bill’s GOP supporters big time. A key point in his scathing, legally sound letter, was that — even after the courts threw out the nullification parts of the measure as expected — parts of it might stay on the books.
The problem with that? Koster noted:
“[L]egislatively restricting state law enforcement’s ability to work cooperatively with federal law enforcement is flawed public policy. What is a state trooper to do if he or she comes across a felon who has sold guns to a group of illegal immigrants? As you are aware, the sale of guns to illegal immigrants is not addressed by Missouri statutes, but is unlawful under federal law. By enacting subsection 5, the General Assembly will make it unlawful for a state trooper to even refer the seller to federal prosecutors.”
• On Sept. 5 and 6, the police chiefs of St. Louis and Kansas City authored an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star, respectively.
“The prospect of Missouri officials trying to arrest federal agents is unimaginable, but that is what House Bill 436 would allow,” wrote St. Louis Chief Sam Dotson and Kansas City Chief Darryl Forté.
“This legislation is offensive due to the disrespect it shows to federal law enforcement agents.”
The oped was part of a larger, last-minute strategy to show that law enforcement officers opposed HB 436. The contention was pretty simple: The measure would hurt local law enforcement officers’ attempts to work with federal officials to control deadly weapons on the streets of Missouri’s cities.
And it worked, despite all the last-minute protests on Wednesday by lawmakers desperate to push back against the police chiefs, Nixon and other critics.
On Wednesday, Sept. 11, the Missouri House did override Nixon’s veto by the barest of margins, with the required 109 votes giving Republicans what they wanted — with the shameful help of a few Democratic House members as well.
But in the Senate, even though the vote to override was 22-12 in favor, it fell a single vote short of turning the bill into law.
That was thanks to two Republicans who voted in the best interests of Missourians: Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey and Majority Leader Ron Richard.
In the end, Nixon, Koster, the police chiefs and many other opponents of HB 436 had won a surprising, but much-needed victory.