JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri's House voted Thursday to pass a scaled-back version of gun rights legislation that wouldn't send federal agents to jail for enforcing some federal gun laws, a change that garnered praise from Senate leaders.
Under the bill, which passed with enough support to override a possible veto, Missouri would refuse to enforce past, present and future federal gun control laws that are deemed to be infringements on gun rights, and residents would have the right to sue law enforcement for enforcing such laws.
But the House legislation wouldn't send those agents to jail, a possibility that was included in other versions of the measure, including the Senate bill that was passed earlier this year.
After the Thursday vote, Senate leaders indicated that they could accept the House bill that doesn't include potential jail time. Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, called it a "good change."
The Republican-led House sent the legislation to the Senate on a 110-41 vote with the help of seven Democrats, one vote more than would be necessary to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon if he were to veto the bill.
Nixon vetoed a similar bill last year that also sought to nullify some federal laws. Last year's bill could have subjected federal agents to prosecution for a new misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. It also included a provision that could have jailed journalists for publishing the names of gun owners in the state.
While the House bill no longer contains either of those provisions, the governor has reiterated his opposition this year to any measures that attempt to invalidate federal laws. He described them as "protest votes" that could make it harder for federal officers to do their jobs.
The House voted to remove the possible criminal penalty in an effort to make the bill more palatable to law enforcement officials. But the bill would still give Missourians the right to sue those officials if they enforce any past, present or future gun law that is deemed to "infringe on people's right to keep and bear arms."
Courts have consistently ruled that states cannot nullify federal laws. Supporters contend the measure requires state officials to fight against the federal gun control laws that they think are unconstitutional and encroach on gun rights.
"This allows us to take on a federal government that by its own admission is going to come and take away your firearms," said sponsoring Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters.
Missouri Republicans began pursuing a gun law nullification bill after President Obama called for expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban in the wake of deadly mass shootings at a Colorado theater and Connecticut elementary school.
Democratic opponents said the measure would be tossed out in court. But they added the bill was about catering to special interests rather than combating crime in urban areas.
"The allegiance to the gun lobby comes before their safety," Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, said about children killed in gun violence.
Nearly ten states have passed some form of legislation attempting to limit federal regulation of firearms within their border.
Missouri's bill contains several other gun rights provisions, including lowering the minimum age to get a concealed weapons permit and allowing designated school personnel to carry firearms in buildings.