It didn’t take long for a gun rights bill to win initial approval in the Missouri Senate late Tuesday night.
It took even less time for the proposal to crash into an unlikely foe — the National Rifle Association.
Arguably the most powerful single-interest group in the country, the NRA is now urging senators to kill a bill that seeks to nullify some federal gun laws and jail federal agents for enforcing them.
The core of the bill isn’t the problem. The group is raising objections to an amendment giving gun owners three days to report a stolen firearm, something the NRA equates to mandatory gun registration.
The bill’s sponsor says it’s all a misunderstanding and insists it can be worked out. The bill had been expected to get final approval and be sent to the House on Thursday.
But that vote never happened, leaving many lawmakers wondering if the bill’s chances just got slimmer.
“There’s been a bit of a misfire, so to speak,” said Sen. Brian Nieves, a Washington Republican who sponsored the legislation. “What (the NRA is) saying about the bill simply is not true, and I think this was an honest mistake.”
Beyond issuing a statement Wednesday opposing the amendment to the bill, the NRA is remaining quiet — much as it has throughout the last year of debate on the measure.
Lawmakers approved a similar bill last year, but it ultimately died when supporters couldn’t rally enough votes to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto. The NRA took no position on the bill at that time, a fact that was noted by opponents as proof the legislation went too far.
The NRA “doesn’t want this bill to pass because they know it’s unconstitutional,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat who authored the amendment.
The Senate gave initial approval to the bill late Tuesday night, but in the process Nasheed’s amendment was included. It would require gun owners to report a stolen firearm within 72 hours of learning about the theft.
It’s that amendment that has drawn the public scorn of the NRA.
“Police resources should be focused on finding the real criminals responsible, not further victimizing those who have had not only their belongings stolen, but their sense of security and privacy as well,” the NRA said in a written statement.
The group said it has opposed similar regulations nationally for years. By requiring gun owners to tell police when firearms are missing, the bill would “create a de facto gun owner registry,” the NRA said.
Nasheed said she believes the NRA is just using her amendment as an excuse to kill the bill without having to criticize the underlying bill.
“That’s a scapegoat,” she said. “They just don’t like the bill for the same reasons that I don’t like the bill. It’s not constitutional.”
Critics say courts have consistently ruled that states cannot nullify federal laws, as called for by Nieves’ legislation.
The NRA statement that the amendment would penalize gun owners for failing to report a stolen firearm with up to a year in prison or a $1,000 fine isn’t true, Nieves said. He believes the group is confusing the amendment with another bill that includes similar provisions.
“The amendment that has been attached to this bill does not create a crime, it does not have a penalty of $1,000 and it does not include weapons that have been lost,” Nieves said.
Nieves is calling for the NRA to retract its statement but said he has not yet spoken with the NRA directly.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, a St. Charles Republican, said plenty of options remain for the bill to pass. The Senate could OK the bill as is, it could strip out the amendment or it could scrap the specific bill and carry the same proposed law in another bill, Dempsey said.
“There’s plenty of time to work through any differences,” he said. “I don’t see any reason to be alarmed.”