JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Republicans are considering a new approach to prevent federal agents from enforcing laws the state considers to be infringements on gun rights — barring them from future careers in state law enforcement agencies.
The change marks the most recent version of Missouri's attempt to nullify some federal gun control laws. It was endorsed by a state Senate committee this past week and is likely to reach the chamber floor.
The employment ban is seen as a compromise designed to make the bill more palatable, while also making federal agents think twice before carrying out laws and policies that the measure's supporters consider unconstitutional.
Republicans have been divided on how to punish potential violators of the legislation dubbed the “Second Amendment Preservation Act.” The spectrum has ranged from possible jail time to allowing civil damages stemming from lawsuits filed by Missourians who think an agent infringed on their gun rights.
The version endorsed by the Senate General Laws Committee would leave the civil penalties on the table in addition to the employment ban.
“What we hope it accomplishes is for there to be a healthy degree of pause before anybody takes an action that could be unconstitutional,” said Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington, and the Senate bill sponsor.
Under the measure, federal employees who enforce or aid in a potential enforcement of certain gun-control laws would be disqualified from any state and local law enforcement jobs in the future. Missourians could also sue if they think a law enforcement officer was employed after being involved in the implementation of a federal gun law. If the lawsuit is successful, the agent would be fired and the state or municipality would be required to pay the resident's court costs.
If the Senate passes the new version, the House would also need to sign off before the bill could reach Gov. Jay Nixon's desk. The Democratic governor vetoed a similar bill last year and has expressed reservations about any legislation that seeks to nullify federal laws.
Although supporters consider the employment ban a more moderate position, the change is unlikely to sway the measure's opponents who argue the entire bill wouldn't survive a court challenge because states cannot nullify federal laws.
“I'm adamantly opposed to this buffoonery,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis. “I just don't think that we should be wasting our time on legislation that we all know is unconstitutional.”
Nieves said he wasn't aware of any current federal gun policy that would be considered “null and void” under the legislation. But he said the bill would prevent any future gun regulations that could infringe on people's Second Amendment rights. Missouri Republicans began pushing for a comprehensive gun rights bill after President Barack Obama unsuccessfully called for expanded background checks and an assault weapons ban in 2012.
House and Senate supporters are also negotiating over a part of the measure that would allow school districts to designate personnel to carry concealed guns in buildings.
The House removed a Senate-backed provision that would have required school districts to hold public hearings before implementing the policy. The Senate Democrat who authored it said it's important that parents have an opportunity to voice their opinions before concealed weapons are allowed in schools. But some House members argue school security matters shouldn't be discussed in a public setting.
The bill would also lower the minimum age required to get a concealed weapons permit to 19 from 21 and allow those permit holders to carry a firearm openly, even in municipalities with ordinances prohibiting open carry.