JEFFERSON CITY — President Barack Obama's call for greater gun restrictions was met with opposition Wednesday in the Missouri legislature, where Republicans rallied behind measures attempting to nullify any federal ban on semi-automatic weapons and make criminals out of federal agents who would try to enforce it.
The state legislation may be largely symbolic because courts have ruled that federal laws supersede conflicting state laws. Yet the measures stand a decent chance of passing in Missouri, where the Republican-led legislature has shown a past willingness to support legislation contradicting federal policies such as Obama's health care law.
"We need to stand up for our rights and how we interpret the Constitution here in Missouri," said state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, who filed the legislation Wednesday in opposition to Obama's gun control measures.
The Democratic president called on Congress to ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines like the ones used in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that killed 20 students and six adults last month. The proposals are part of a broad plan by Obama to reduce gun violence that also includes 23 executive actions, such as ordering federal agencies to make more data available for background checks on gun purchases.
Munzlinger's legislation would declare unenforceable in Missouri any federal law or executive order that restricts the possession of semi-automatic guns or accessories beyond what existed at the end of 2012, or which requires the registration of any guns or accessories. The legislation also would make it a state felony for federal agents to enforce those restrictions on any guns that are made and remain in Missouri. State law enforcement offices and licensed gun deals could face misdemeanor charges for enforcing such federal restrictions.
A similar bill filed Tuesday by Missouri state Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, is co-sponsored by more than 60 representatives. Guernsey described his bill as a protection against Obama's proposals.
"Limiting the right of law abiding citizens to keep and bear arms is a non-starter," Guernsey said.
Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, supports Guernsey's House bill, explaining that his job as a representative is to protect the rights of his constituents.
"He's basically just taking the law into his own hands, which is obviously something the president doesn't have any right to do," he said.
Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said he wasn't bothered by the bill because he thinks it is so unconstitutional it could never be enforced.
If passed, Kelly believes that police officers or sheriff's deputies trying to enforce the law would be in danger of a physical confrontation with federal law enforcement or in legal danger.
Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, characterized the bill as "nuts."
"Every Republican 10 years ago would have thought this is radical," he said. "This isn't a mainstream idea. This is an extreme idea."
But some Democratic lawmakers said the bills are a waste of time, citing the general supremacy of federal laws over state laws. They noted that last year, the Republican-led legislature overrode a gubernatorial veto to enact a law requiring insurers to exclude birth control coverage for moral objectors. But a federal judge has temporarily blocked the Missouri law, because it conflicts with an insurance mandate under Obama's health care law.
Missouri state Sen. Kiki Curls, D-Kansas City, said she supports a ban on the sale of assault weapons and ammunition and believes most urban residents do also.
"The culture in my district is very different than the culture in rural areas, and the sale of assault rifles and ammunition is of grave concern in my district," Curls said.
Kurt Schaefer has spoken out in support of the Senate version of the bill, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune, but could not be reached for comment. Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, also couldn't be reached, and Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport, declined to comment on the record.
Missourian reporter Fedor Zarkhin contributed to this report.