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UPDATE: Missouri Senate panel considering gun law nullification

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 | 6:54 p.m. CST

*This story has been updated with testimony from the hearing, quotes and background.

JEFFERSON CITY — Gun rights supporters told a Missouri Senate committee Tuesday that legislation seeking to nullify federal gun control laws was important to protect the Second Amendment, but opponents questioned whether the legislation was favoring one constitutional right over another.

The Senate General Laws Committee began a two-part hearing Tuesday on the measure that would declare certain federal gun control policies "null and void." Agents enforcing them could spend a year in jail, be fined up to $1,000 and face other civil penalties.

Courts have consistently ruled that states cannot nullify federal laws, but that hasn't stopped them from trying or ignoring them anyway. Last year, a federal appeals court struck down a 2009 Montana law that sought to prohibit federal regulation of guns that were manufactured in the state and remained within its borders.

But the nullification aspect of the Missouri bill didn't garner the attention of the panel or the witnesses testifying about the legislation. Instead, a provision that would prevent health care personnel from being required to ask or document whether a patient owns a gun drew the most discussion.

"No matter what it is, I should be able to document it," said Sen. Rob Schaaf, a St. Joseph Republican and the Senate's only licensed physician. "I don't want to think if I'm stepping afoul of some esoteric law."

Schaaf said he was concerned about regulating what a physician can ask a patient or include in a medical record. The Missouri Academy of Family Physicians and the Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians echoed Schaaf's sentiments and said the legislation could lead physicians to unknowingly break state law when talking with patients.

The bill's sponsor said he was open-minded about changing the measure's language to meet the physicians' concerns but added that the provision was necessary to protect a patient's privacy regarding gun ownership.

"There is always this quandary when one amendment wants to trump the other, but we try to strike a balance," said Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington.

The Republican-led Legislature began pushing for a comprehensive pro-gun bill after President Barack Obama called for expanded background checks and a ban on assault weapons. Its attempt to enact a bill to nullify federal gun control laws failed last year after Republicans failed to get enough votes to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto.

Like last year's version, the legislation would also allow designated school personnel to carry concealed weapons in buildings. Another provision would let holders of concealed-gun permits carry firearms openly, even in municipalities with ordinances banning open carry. It would also lower the minimum age to get a concealed-weapons permit to 19, down from 21.

But Nieves' bill is less specific about which federal laws it seeks to nullify. It removes references the 1934 and 1968 gun control acts while keeping generic references to fees, registration and tracking policies that "have a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership" of guns and ammunition by law-abiding citizens.

The panel did not vote on the proposal and planned to hold another public hearing next week.


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Comments

dan elliott January 21, 2014 | 11:33 a.m.

Flush my money. Wonderful Legislators know Federal Law trumps State Law but are going to waste thousands of dollars passing an unenforceable law. You could try some campaign finance reform so we know who is buying you off but rather blow smoke up our...sensibilities.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 21, 2014 | 12:12 p.m.

Flush my money. Wonderful Legislators know Federal Law trumps State Law but are going to waste thousands of dollars passing an unenforceable law.
_______________

So, Dan, how do you feel about Colorado's and Washington's legalization of pot, a commodity declared illegal by federal law?

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote January 21, 2014 | 4:42 p.m.

@MW,
The difference is CO and WA are repealing their OWN state laws outlawing marijuana use/possession, which under their state constitutions they are legally able to do. Federal law still applies and anyone in those two states can be indicted on federal drug charges, as no federal law has been invalidated by state decree. Contrast that with Missouri in which the state legislators are attempting to pass state legislation that invalidates federal law and that is clearly unconstitutional vis a vis the US constitution. Seems like the difference is fairly striking, from a nonpartisan perspective.

(Report Comment)
Christopher Foote January 21, 2014 | 4:42 p.m.

@MW,
The difference is CO and WA are repealing their OWN state laws outlawing marijuana use/possession, which under their state constitutions they are legally able to do. Federal law still applies and anyone in those two states can be indicted on federal drug charges, as no federal law has been invalidated by state decree. Contrast that with Missouri in which the state legislators are attempting to pass state legislation that invalidates federal law and that is clearly unconstitutional vis a vis the US constitution. Seems like the difference is fairly striking, from a nonpartisan perspective.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 21, 2014 | 7:22 p.m.

ChrisF.

So, if the feds decide NOT to enforce their own laws, nullification is an ok thing and at the whim of whomever is President and Attorney General.

I believe I made that point in a post to another article in this paper.

If you read the Supremacy Clause, I think you'll realize how nuanced and pretzeled your argument is. A plain-language reading of the Supremacy Clause allows no such argument on your part.

Besides, it's a strange time for you to be holding up the 10th Amendment after so many years.

As I've said before, you can't pick and choose.

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams January 21, 2014 | 8:48 p.m.

Chris: To clarify my position, I think the problem with pot should be corrected at the federal level. That is, the law should go away and, at that point, any Supremacy Clause arguments on this topic go away, too.

For now, I find it ludicrous that folks would claim state's rights and Supremacy Clause protection on one hand, then dismiss them on an unfavored topic with the other hand. It's intellectually dishonest.

Also, I think SCOTUS has settled this issue of guns from a Constitutional standpoint. Personally, I favor the states making up their minds on how to regulate them....assuming SCOTUS allows for regulation once this topic gets back to them. Their last decision left open the degree of regulation allowed. I favor Missouri making up it's own mind.
______________

It's interesting that the abortion and gun arguments are so similar in one regard: No pro-abortion person can tolerate one single of a camel's nose under the tent. Same thing for pro-gun folks.

Striking similarity.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith January 22, 2014 | 5:55 a.m.

@ Michael Williams:

I agree with your comment concerning intellectual dishonesty, but there seems to be a lot of intellectual dishonesty these days.

Or is it that we have so many dishonest [pseudo]intellectuals*? These situations become difficult to follow, especially for us octogenarians.

I doubt there will be federal policy changes concerning cannabis before the November 2014 elections.

*-Thank you, George Wallace, for coining the phrase "pseudo intellectuals." You may have been a racist redneck, but you got THAT right!

(Report Comment)
John Schultz January 22, 2014 | 10:26 a.m.

One additional pointthat causes me heartburn is that the feds decided they needed to pass a constitutional amendment to outlaw alcohol, but saw no need to do the same for marijuana. I would love to see the legal analysis behind that.

(Report Comment)

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