JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri lawmakers were deciding Wednesday whether to take the first shot in a potential legal battle with the federal government by enacting a measure that threatens criminal charges against federal agents who attempt to enforce certain gun-control laws.
The Republican-led Legislature was considering whether to override a veto of the legislation by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, who asserts that it would violate the U.S. Constitution.
The Missouri legislation is one of the boldest examples yet of what has become a nationwide movement among states to nullify or ignore federal laws with which local officials disagree. A recent Associated Press analysis 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.
The latest Missouri measure would declare invalid any federal policies that “infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms.” Federal authorities who attempt to enforce those laws could face state misdemeanor charges punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Similar penalties would apply to anyone who publishes identifying information about gun owners.
Nixon vetoed the bill because he said 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.
Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, also raised concerns about the ramifications of a potential veto override. He said a court likely would strike down the nullification provision but could leave intact other sections of the bill that could potentially prevent local police from cooperating with federal authorities on crimes involving guns. He said the bill also could open Missouri police to potential lawsuits from criminals if they refer gun-related cases to federal authorities.
Gun rights advocates were to rally Wednesday at the Capitol in advance of the legislative session.
But the National Rifle Association has maintained a conspicuous public silence about the bill, declining to answer repeated questions from the media about whether it supports or opposes the measure.
If the veto override succeeds, the Missouri Press Association already has said it will file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the provisions barring the publication of the name, address or other identifying information of any person who owns a firearm.