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Jackson County Looks To Join Lawsuit Challenging Missouri's New 2nd Amendment Law

 Gov. Mike Parson signs HB-85 into law in June at Frontier Justice in Lee's Summit. Jackson County is requesting to join the lawsuit opposing the bill.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Gov. Mike Parson signs HB-85 into law in June at Frontier Justice in Lee's Summit. Jackson County is requesting to join the lawsuit opposing the bill.

Jackson County wants to sign onto the joint lawsuit filed by St. Louis City and County that challenges a new Missouri rule restricting how local and state police can enforce federal gun laws.

The law, called the Second Amendment Preservation Act, imposes a $50,000 fine on any state or local official who enforces a federal gun law that’s not already a law in the Show-Me State. The rule also says federal laws infringing the Second Amendment are invalid in Missouri.

“As we speak, there are attorneys in our County Counselor's Office who are finalizing motions to request to be able to enter that lawsuit,” said Caleb Clifford, chief of staff for County Executive Frank White Jr.

This comes the same day the County Legislature approved a resolution supporting the plan to join the lawsuit. That resolution was approved by a vote of 5-3, with one legislator not present.

“The county executive thought that it was important for us to show that this was supported not just by the executive himself, but it was also supported by the legislature, who was also voted in by the community,” Clifford said.

Parson signed the law in question on June 12, at the Frontier Justice gun shop in Lee’s Summit. At the ceremony, the Republican echoed a dubious claim that has made the rounds on conservative social media.

“You've had the vice president of the United States get up in an open forum — when she was running for president, if you remember this — and any particular weapon she decided she didn't like, she was going to come to your house, onto your front door, and take it away,” he said. “Well not in Missouri, she's not.”

The challenging lawsuit from St. Louis was filed last month in Cole County Circuit Court. The same day, the Jackson County executive expressed his support for it in a press release.

“This new law is like the state holding out a sign that says ‘Come Commit Gun Violence Here,’” St. Louis County Executive Dr. Sam Page also said in a press release at the time.

St. Louis City and County are seeking to pause enforcement of the new rule until the suit is resolved, and ultimately for the law to be overturned.

“The law that the Missouri Legislature passed and the governor signed is blatantly unconstitutional,” said Jackson County Legislator Crystal Williams, who sponsored the county’s non-binding resolution. “It defies the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution — it's really as simple as that.”

The Supremacy Clause, first applied in court in 1796, is the part of the Constitution specifying that federal laws overrule conflicting state laws.

By passing the new measure, Missouri became one of at least 10 states this year to have enacted what some call Second Amendment sanctuary laws. They vary state-by-state, but most are meant to limit when state and local authorities can enforce federal gun restrictions.

States in every region but the Northeast have passed laws aimed at either nullifying certain federal gun laws or preventing state and local police from enforcing them.

Meanwhile, in 2020 Missouri experienced the third highest gun-death rate in the country, with 689 people shot and killed — more than in any previous year.

“Kansas City and St. Louis are in the top, or near the top, in the nation for violence — especially gun violence,” said Jackson County Legislator Jalen Anderson. “Stripping away the powers of police or prosecutors when (they’re) trying to go after … the individuals who cause violence, I think, is very dangerous and wrong.”

Missouri’s law enforcement community is split on the matter.

A police chief in suburban St. Louis has resigned over it, and prosecutors from the attorney general’s office have withdrawn from nearly two dozen federal drug, gun and carjacking cases.

A spokesman for the Kansas City Police Department has said the new rule wouldn’t affect their officers’ daily jobs much, because the department has a team of detectives who advise and handle gun cases specifically.

Most local departments in Missouri, though, don’t have those kinds of resources.

Kevin Merritt, president of the Missouri Sheriff's Association, said many of his members aren't thrilled with the new law, but they aren’t against it either. That’s because the rule’s language could lead to more litigation against local authorities, he said, which could result in less cooperation with federal agencies.

Whether or not Jackson County can join the lawsuit from St. Louis is ultimately up to the judge overseeing the case. A timetable for the lawsuit has not been set.

Copyright 2021 KCUR 89.3

Luke X. Martin is an assistant producer for KCUR's Up To Date.