A division among Missouri Republicans is threatening to derail the state’s attempt to nullify federal laws that are deemed to be infringements on gun rights.
House and Senate negotiators were at odds Tuesday over how to punish federal agents who enforce those laws.
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The House passed a bill Tuesday that would allow Missourians to sue federal workers for enforcing such laws, but the Senate sponsor said it’s unlikely the chamber will consider that version.
Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, said the lawsuit penalty is insufficient.
“The whole intent of that bill was to create a healthy pause on the part of any federal law enforcement officer that’s going to come to Missouri and violate the Second Amendment rights of Missourians,” he said.
Though courts have repeatedly rejected state efforts to nullify federal laws, Missouri lawmakers have forged ahead anyway with their gun legislation. They note, among other things, that the federal government has declined to challenge state laws allowing the medical or recreational use of marijuana, even though marijuana possession remains a federal crime.
There isn’t a lot of time for Missouri Republicans to settle their differences before a 6 p.m. Friday deadline to pass legislation.
Nieves said he doesn’t “see a whole lot of use for the bill” and would probably let it die unless there is a substantive penalty against federal agents who knowingly violate gun rights.
He favors a version of the measure that includes the lawsuit provision but would also bar federal workers from future careers in state law enforcement if they enforce a federal law the state considers void.
But the House sponsor said he made a commitment to remove substantial penalties against law enforcement after lawmakers failed to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a similar bill last year.
That measure sought to prosecute federal agents for a new crime punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
“I don’t want to risk a good law enforcement officer’s career on the potential that they may have a one-time mistake in the carrying out of their duties,” said Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters.
Funderburk acknowledged that the bill may be in jeopardy because of the disagreement over penalties.
The House voted 109-42 for the bill Tuesday, just barely meeting the minimum threshold that would be needed to override a veto.
Nixon has indicated that another veto is possible. He noted earlier this year that the U.S. Constitution gives federal laws precedence over conflicting state laws and criticized lawmakers for casting “protest votes” intended to make it harder for federal law enforcement officers to do their jobs.
The bill would declare null and void any past, present or future federal gun control law or regulation that is deemed to “infringe on people’s right to keep and bear arms.”
The bill also would let designated school personnel carry concealed weapons or pepper spray in buildings after undergoing training.
Another provision would let concealed gun permit holders carry firearms openly, even in municipalities with ordinances banning open carry. The bill also would lower the minimum age to get a concealed weapons permit to 19, down from the current 21.
Those provisions also are included in a separate legislation, so they could pass even if the gun nullification measure does not.