JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House endorsed legislation Monday that attempts to nullify some federal gun-control laws after scaling back the measure to remove the threat of jail time for federal agents who enforce those laws.
The Republican-led House voted 112-37 to remove the possibility for criminal prosecution of federal law enforcement officers who knowingly enforce gun policies the state deems to "infringe on people's right to keep and bear arms."
The bill's sponsor offered the amendment removing the punishment after talking with law enforcement groups that were concerned about the bill's effect on cooperation between state and federal officials. The measure could have prompted state officials to arrest their federal law enforcement counterparts.
Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, said removing the possibility of jail time doesn't diminish the measure's intention.
"This allows this state and this government to be the first and foremost defender of Second Amendment rights," he said.
Under previous versions of the measure, federal agents could have faced prosecution for a misdemeanor crime punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. With Funderburk's amendment, law enforcement officers could only face civil penalties stemming from lawsuits brought by residents who think their gun rights have been infringed.
The House measure needs one more affirmative vote in the chamber before moving to the Senate, which passed a version earlier this year containing the potential jail sentences. For the legislation to go to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, both chambers must agree on the same version before the mid-May end of the session.
Opponents argue both bills are unconstitutional because courts have consistently ruled that states cannot nullify federal laws.
This marks Missouri's second attempt in as many years to nullify some federal gun laws. Last year's effort ended with an unsuccessful bid to override Nixon's veto.
On Tuesday, the governor reiterated his opposition to measures that attempt to invalidate federal laws. He described them as "protest votes" intended to make it harder for federal law enforcement officers to do their jobs.
"Unless they've made significant changes, there's a long history of constitutional law that clearly says there are serious constitutional as well as policy problems with what that concept" of states nullifying federal laws, Nixon told reporters.
The removal of the potential jail term wasn't enough to earn the support of House Democrats who raised concerns about the civil penalties allowed under the bill.
"I don't want to see a law enforcement officer be put in a position to be sued for following the law," said Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City.
Like last year's legislation, the House bill also allows designated school personnel to carry concealed weapons in buildings. The House adopted an amendment Tuesday removing a provision in this year's measure that would have required school districts to hold public hearings before allowing personnel to undergo training to carry weapons on school property.
Amendment sponsor Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, said school security matters shouldn't be politicized by holding hearings. But others said that parents and teachers should have the opportunity to weigh in before a concealed weapon policy is adopted.
The bill would also lower the minimum age to get a concealed gun permit to 19 from 21.
Under the bill, health workers could not be required to ask patients whether they own firearms.