States Rights

Missouri measure nullifying federal gun laws fails in state Senate

September 11, 2013: Members of the Missouri Senate work into the evening during special session at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City.

September 11, 2013: Members of the Missouri Senate work into the evening during special session at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City.

An effort by Missouri legislators to expand gun rights and make federal gun regulations unenforceable failed by one vote in the state Senate Wednesday night, as the body's top two Republican officials voted to sustain a veto by the Democratic governor. 

Senators voted 22-12 to override Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the legislation, failing to reach the required two-thirds threshold by a single vote. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey and Majority Leader Ron Richard were the only two GOP members to vote against the legislation, which declared that any federal policies that "infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms" shall be invalid in Missouri. It would have created state misdemeanor charges against federal authorities who attempted to enforce those laws or anyone who published the identity of a gun owner. Another provision could have allowed police and prosecutors to be targeted with lawsuits for attempting to enforce the nullified laws.

Other parts of the bill would have lowered Missouri's concealed-gun permit age to 19 instead of 21 and allowed specially trained teachers or administrators to serve as a "school protection officer" able to carry a concealed gun.

The override attempt already had passed the Republican-led House 109-49, getting the bare minimum number of votes needed.

The Missouri legislation was one of the boldest examples in a nationwide movement among states to nullify federal laws with which local officials disagree. A recent analysis by The Associated Press found that about four-fifths of the states now have enacted laws that directly reject or conflict with federal laws on marijuana use, gun control, health insurance requirements and identification standards for driver's licenses.

After scuttling the Missouri bill, Dempsey and Richard both professed their devotion to the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, their love of hunting and their history of supporting pro-gun legislation.

"However, I have reached a point where, in my view, political prudence and good public policy have parted ways, and I have been forced to pick which path I will follow," Dempsey, of St. Charles, said in a written explanation of his vote.

"My love of the Second Amendment didn't trump my love of the First Amendment," he told reporters.

The gun bill was one of the highest profile measures among Nixon's 33 vetoes this year. Missouri lawmakers overrode 10 of them, the greatest single-year total in Missouri since 1833, when a different constitution only required a simple majority. But lawmakers also failed to override Nixon's veto of a sweeping income tax cut, giving him victories on the two most hard-fought measures.

Nixon vetoed the gun bill in July while warning that it infringed on First Amendment free-speech rights and also violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives precedence to federal laws over conflicting state ones.

On Wednesday, Nixon touted his personal gun ownership while praising the Senate for stopping what he described as an "unnecessary, unconstitutional and unsafe nullification bill."

Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, also had raised concerns about the ramifications of a potential veto override. He said a court likely would have struck down the nullification provision but could have left intact other sections that could have prevented police from cooperating with federal authorities on crimes involving guns. He said the bill also could have opened Missouri police to potential lawsuits from criminals if they referred gun-related cases to federal agents.

Sen. Brian Nieves, a chief backer of the bill, accused Koster of lying about the legislation in a smear campaign that he said "literally scares the bejesus out of our great law enforcement community."

"This fight ain't over, it ain't over, it ain't over," said Nieves, a Republican from Washington, Mo. "We'll be back to visit it again" in the 2014 session.

Dempsey said he would help "fast-track" a gun-rights bill next year that attempts to address his concerns.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Missouri Press Association both had threatened to immediately file lawsuits if the veto override had succeeded.

The National Rifle Association remained publicly silent about the bill, declining to answer repeated questions from the media about whether it supported or opposed the measure.

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Doug Funderburk, of suburban St. Louis, had described the measure as an attempt to "push back the tyranny of an out of control and incompetent federal government."

Thee Associated Press contributed to this report.