Cities ask Missouri Supreme Court to strike down law targeting federal gun regulations

By: - February 7, 2022 5:53 pm

The Missouri Supreme Court Building in Jefferson City (Jason Hancock/Missouri Independent).

A lawyer representing St. Louis told the Missouri Supreme Court on Monday that a state law that forbids the enforcement of federal gun regulations was unconstitutional and an “unintelligible statute” that has confused law enforcement.

Robert Dierker, deputy St. Louis city counselor, took issue before the state’s highest court with the Second Amendment Preservation Act, also called SAPA. The supreme court heard an appeal by St. Louis and Jackson County, which had unsuccessfully tried to persuade a Cole County judge to block the law.

SAPA prohibits the enforcement of federal gun regulations by Missouri law enforcement personnel and allows anyone to sue police departments for up to $50,000 if they believe their rights to firearms have been infringed.

“I would say that the separation of power problems looms very large in this case,” Dierker said. “The plain language of the statute says that a range of ill defined — indeed undefined — federal laws regulations infringe the second amendment and will not be enforced in Missouri.”

Dierker said SAPA violates the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from interfering with the government’s enforcement of constitutional powers.

Missouri Solicitor General John Sauer defended SAPA, arguing that the court didn’t need to hear the case yet because St. Louis and Jackson County didn’t argue the constitutionality of SAPA in the Cole County Court case.

“They’re asking things that are extraordinary departures from this court’s jurisprudence again and again and again,” Sauer said. “The natural way to go forward would be just to remand it to the trial court to consider the constitutional issues.”

Dierker argued sending the decision back to a lower court would create multiple inconsistent rulings that don’t address the constitutionality of the law.

Sauer added there are currently five lawsuits challenging the law, each of which could serve as avenues to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

In a separate case filed by the St. Louis suburb of Arnold, 60 police chiefs hope to have the law clarified. In a brief supporting Arnold’s lawsuit, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association and the St. Louis Area Police Chiefs Organization argued the law puts law enforcement at risk of facing lawsuits for working with federal partners.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said in a brief that since SAPA went into effect, more than 12 law enforcement agencies in Missouri have ended partnerships with the bureau.

Departments like the Missouri State Highway Patrol have stopped participating in some investigations and no longer add information to national databases used to solve crimes.

That’s because police worry that cooperating with federal law enforcement could land them in court, Dierker said.

“The problem is that the plaintiffs’ law enforcement employees regularly participate with the federal government in attempting to suppress illegal firearms and other illegal criminal activity in which firearms are inevitably associated,” Dierker said.

The court did not indicate when a decision might be made on the case.

This story comes from the Midwest Newsroom, an investigative journalism collaboration including IPRKCUR 89.3Nebraska Public Media NewsSt. Louis Public Radio and NPR.

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Kavahn Mansouri
Kavahn Mansouri

Kavahn Mansouri is an investigative reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Midwest Newsroom. He previously reported for the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat, where his beat focused on covering local government, with a mission to hold elected officials and public agencies accountable. He also contributed to the breaking news beat daily and maintained the paper’s Public Pay Database, which tracks salaries and wages at taxpayer-funded institutions throughout the state. A native of St. Louis, Kavahn is a graduate of Webster University.