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Justice Department sues Missouri over Second Amendment sanctuary law: 'A state cannot simply declare federal laws invalid'

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Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Joe Biden's Department of Justice filed a lawsuit this week against Missouri, seeking to unravel a state law that aims to protect the Second Amendment rights of state residents against federal gun control policies.

What's the background?

In June 2021, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson (R) signed House Bill 85 into law, establishing the Second Amendment Preservation Act in Missouri. The law, according to Parson, drew "a line in the sand" and declared the state was committed to rejecting "any attempt by the federal government to circumvent the fundamental right Missourians have to keep and bear arms to protect themselves and their property.”

The law prohibited state and local cooperation with federal officials who attempt to enforce laws, rules, orders, or actions that violate the fundamental Second Amendment rights of state residents and made any person or entity who knowingly deprived Missouri citizens of their right to bear arms liable for redress and monetary damages of $50,000.

Passed in the wake of a national Second Amendment sanctuary movement, the law pre-emptively sought to offer protection against the Biden administration's potential federal gun control initiatives — which at the time included gun taxes, unlawful gun confiscation, and the tracking or registering of firearms and ammunition.

What's happening now?

But in a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the Justice Department hit back, arguing the law is impeding law enforcement efforts in the state by hindering cooperation between state and local police and federal authorities.

The department also argued that the law is unconstitutional under the Supremacy Clause, which declares that federal law, generally, takes precedence over state laws.

"This act impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a news release. "The United States will work to ensure that our state and local law enforcement partners are not penalized for doing their jobs to keep our communities safe."

"A state cannot simply declare federal laws invalid," principal deputy assistant attorney general Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, added. "This act makes enforcement of federal firearms laws difficult and strains the important law enforcement partnerships that help keep violent criminals off the street."

The department's complaint specifically alleges that penalties associated with H.B. 85 have prompted state and local law enforcement "to withdraw support for federal law enforcement efforts, including by not sharing critical data used to solve violent crimes and withdrawing from joint federal task forces."

In the news release, the department noted that in Missouri "nearly 80% of violent crimes are committed with firearms."

Missouri plans to fight

In response, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt (R) said the complaint is just "another partisan lawsuit that seeks to attack Missourians’ Second Amendment rights."

He added that the Justice Department is only using the lawsuit as a pretext to "pull the plug" on Missouri's federal-state crime-fighting partnership, called the Safer Streets Initiative. According to Schmitt, the now-suspended initiative had resulted in over 650 charges against nearly 390 defendants with a conviction rate of roughly 98%.

"Time and again, the Biden Administration has put partisan politics ahead of public safety," Schmitt continued. "Make no mistake, the law is on our side in this case, and I intend to beat the Biden Administration in court once again."

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