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Editorial: Bill to invalidate federal gun laws in Missouri shows depth of GOP dysfunction

Editorial: Bill to invalidate federal gun laws in Missouri shows depth of GOP dysfunction

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Protesters during Missouri veto session

Holly Jacobs, right, Mark Jacobs and Richard Elam, left, all from Macon, Mo., hold signs and flags at a rally to override then-Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a gun bill on the south lawn of the Missouri State Capitol on Sept. 11, 2013. The governor vetoed a bill that attempted to nullify certain federal gun laws.

(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Now that the Legislature has declared Missouri to be outside the scope of federal gun laws, Gov. Mike Parson can show the nation that not every Republican politician in this state is unhinged. A swift veto of this blatantly unconstitutional measure wouldn’t be inconsistent with gun rights and would establish the governor as a defender of federalism.

The first thing to know about the so-called Second Amendment Preservation Act is that it’s not serious legislation, but it is a bit of political performance art — a right-wing take on virtue-signaling. The radical extremists who make up the bulk of the GOP in the Legislature know they have to appeal to even more extremist constituents who believe (wrongly) that the Constitution outlaws any restrictions whatsoever on guns. The election of a Democratic president and Congress who vow to finally create a rational nationwide gun policy has those constituents whipped into a frenzy of gun-grabbing paranoia. This delusional rant of a bill is meant to both placate and pander to those constituents.

The bill declares that any federal laws that “infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment … shall be invalid to this state.” The measure’s definition of infringement includes excise taxes on guns, any gun registration system, and any act that allows confiscation of guns from “law-abiding citizens.” In other words, universal background-check requirements for gun purchases, or a national “red-flag” law to allow relatives to have guns confiscated from those who are shown to be a danger to themselves or others, would be unenforceable in Missouri.

Or not. The Civil War settled the question of whether individual states can declare themselves outside the reach of federal law: They can’t. Should Parson sign this bill, he would do so knowing full well that he’d be forcing his state to lay out time and resources to defend a legally indefensible law in court. There is no legitimate reason to do that; there are only cynical political reasons.

Missouri has been down this rabbit hole before — in 2013, then-Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed a similar bill. But this one is, in terms of the national optics, even worse. By rejecting a Democratic amendment to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, the current bill’s backers are telling the world this state is not only hostile toward gun sanity and dismissive of federalism but is also cruel.

Since there is no possibility this bill will become a functioning law in Missouri, Parson’s decision of whether to sign it is important only for the message it sends about his party: He will either provide reassurance that Missouri’s top Republican, at least, is still capable of putting rational governance above ideological grandstanding; or he will confirm that the state’s entire GOP has gone full Fort Sumter.

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