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St. Louis, St. Louis County sue to block Missouri law claiming to invalidate federal gun laws

St. Louis, St. Louis County sue to block Missouri law claiming to invalidate federal gun laws

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A man fires a handgun at an Imperial shooting range in this file image. Photo by Erik M. Lunsford, elunsford@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — St. Louis and St. Louis County have sued the state of Missouri over a Republican-backed law seeking to invalidate federal gun laws in the state.

In a petition filed Monday, the two jurisdictions asked the Cole County Circuit Court to block implementation and enforcement of the new law and to declare it unconstitutional.

The lawsuit represents the first legal challenge to the law proponents call the “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” which asserts that federal laws deemed to violate the Second Amendment are invalid in Missouri.

The law prevents local or state police agencies from enforcing federal laws deemed unconstitutional. It subjects agencies to a $50,000 fine if an officer violates the law. The same fine applies if an agency hires an officer who previously violated the Missouri law as a federal agent.

Critics have said the law will negatively affect working relationships with the federal government, including on anti-crime task forces. They also say the law will effectively defund the police by subjecting them to the fines.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones said Monday that the law “takes away tools our communities need to prevent gun violence.” Said St. Louis County Executive Sam Page: “This new law is like the state holding out a sign that says ‘Come Commit Gun Violence Here.’”

In response to the lawsuit, Chris Nuelle, spokesman for Attorney General Eric Schmitt, said “progressive politicians” had filed the lawsuit at the same time they were “attempting to defund the police” and that the lawsuit was an attempt to infringe upon Second Amendment rights.

“We will continue our efforts to prosecute violent crime, and we will not shy away from defending the Second Amendment rights of law abiding citizens,” Nuelle said in a statement.

He pointed to Jones’ plan to move $4 million out of the city police department’s $171 million budget to fund affordable housing, homeless services, a victims’ support program and civil rights litigators as evidence of defunding the police.

Attorneys for St. Louis and St. Louis County argue in the 15-page brief that the new law violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. The lawsuit says the new law contains multiple subjects and differs from its original purpose in violation of the state constitution.

Attorneys also argue that the new statute is an “unconstitutional Special Law” because it “grants special privileges to gun owners to be free from federal laws regarding firearms without substantial justification in violation of (the) Missouri Constitution,” the lawsuit says.

The suit also asks the court to declare the law unconstitutional because it violates “charter county and city provisions regarding employment, hiring and prescribing the duties of law enforcement.”

The Post-Dispatch reported last week that prosecutors working for Schmitt had withdrawn from nearly two-dozen federal drug, gun and carjacking cases in St. Louis as Missouri moved forward with the law.

“2020 was the deadliest year of gun violence in our state’s history, and now the Missouri legislature is throwing up barriers to stop police from doing their most important job — preventing and solving violent crime,” Jones said in a statement. “This harmful and unconstitutional law takes away tools our communities need to prevent gun violence. I’m proud to partner with St. Louis County in this effort to protect our region and stop this law.”

“We can’t expect people to stay in St. Louis or to move their businesses here if we don’t do everything we can to reduce gun violence in the region, but this new law sends the opposite message to our residents and business community,” Page said.

Both Page and Jones are Democrats. Gov. Mike Parson and Schmitt, both Republicans, defended the law last week in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice, which had warned the state it cannot void federal gun laws.

Parson and Schmitt argued that Missouri “is not attempting to nullify federal law” but was instead “defending its people from federal government overreach by prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies from being used by the federal government to infringe on Missourians’ right to keep and bear arms.”

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