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Leila Sadat and Madaline George: Bill puts Missourians at further risk to protect gun rights that aren't under threat

Leila Sadat and Madaline George: Bill puts Missourians at further risk to protect gun rights that aren't under threat

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Triple shooting on South Grand

A woman grieves as police investigate the scene of a triple homicide inside a home on the 4100 block of South Grand Boulevard in St. Louis on Feb. 4. The  victims were a 30-year-old woman and her two young daughters. 

Weeks after a mob stormed the U.S. Congress, Missouri legislators are rushing to obstruct the enforcement of federal gun laws with the introduction of the “Second Amendment Preservation Act.” House Bill 85 is particularly far-reaching and cleared first-round approval from the House on Feb. 3 over the strenuous objections of the House Democratic caucus. It requires a final vote in the House before advancing to the Senate.

Why? Unlike victims of gun violence, the Second Amendment is not in danger. Indeed, 2020 was a banner year for the firearms industry. Gun and ammunition sales soared, even as the national background check system experienced delays, resulting in unlawful sales to purchasers not entitled to buy guns even under the relatively lax laws that are in force. Firearm distributers and retailers, however, remained protected from liability — and shielded from sufficient oversight — by federal laws like the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act and the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

More than 181,000 Americans have died from gun violence over the past five years. Suicides, facilitated by the easy availability of guns, account for 60% of the dead. Historic numbers of homicides in St. Louis and Kansas City made 2020 the deadliest year on record for Missouri. Indeed, the state has the nation’s third highest per-capita rate of gun deaths and leads the country in homicide deaths of African Americans. Ignoring the facts, Missouri legislators are putting guns first, and human rights last, by introducing laws preventing police in Missouri from enforcing federal gun laws.

Not only is the proposed legislation likely unconstitutional, it also is a singularly bad idea because it makes Missourians less safe. Moreover, under the proposed legislation, police departments can be sued (minimum penalty of $50,000) simply for cooperating in federal investigations.

Given that the data shows that reasonable gun safety laws work, are constitutional under the Second Amendment, and have broad public support, one wonders why some Missouri legislators want to protect guns instead of people. This is not the first try: similar versions of HB 85 were introduced in almost every legislative session since 2013. Yet, Missourians, like all Americans, have human rights too. These include the right to security, to life, to be free from domestic violence, to practice their religion free from fear of violence and intimidation, to vote, protest and assemble, and to be free from racial and other forms of discrimination. Some of these rights are enshrined in our state and federal constitutions — others are found in treaties ratified and adopted by the United States and hundreds of other countries.

Yet in the face of one of the most violent, tumultuous years in recent history, some politicians have inexplicably determined to sabotage accountability for gun violence and human rights abusers — rather than protect the lives of Missourians. In so doing they are not only violating U.S. and international law but also the founding principles of our democracy. Rather than bring it to life, the Senate should resoundingly defeat the bill. As Rep. John Franklin Farnsworth remarked in 1867, “the first duty of the Government is to afford protection to its citizens.”

Leila Sadat is the James Carr professor of international criminal law and director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University. Madaline George is a fellow at the Harris Institute at Washington University.

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