JEFFERSON CITY — The mayors of Missouri's two largest cities and a federal prosecutor warned lawmakers Monday that legislation attempting to nullify some federal gun laws would hinder efforts to curb urban crime.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay called the measure "absurd" and said it could make it easier for criminals to get guns. U.S. Attorney Richard Callahan cautioned that the proposal would prevent federal law enforcement agencies from working with local officials to combat gang and other gun violence.
The legislation would declare "null and void" past, present and future federal laws deemed to be infringements on the gun rights of law-abiding citizens. The House and Senate each passed a different version of the bill this year, but the chambers need to agree on an identical measure before lawmakers adjourn in mid-May.
"It sides with criminals over federal authorities who help us rid our neighborhoods of violent criminals, gangs or drug dealers," Slay said.
Slay cited a joint operation last year with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that collected 267 guns from criminals. He said that effort would no longer be allowed if the bill becomes law.
But the bill's sponsor said it would "absolutely not" hurt the ability of state and federal authorities to cooperate on investigations.
"It has not and has never been my goal to prevent inter-agency cooperation," said Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters. "I just want to make sure Missouri citizens' rights are protected."
Callahan, who prosecutes federal crimes in Missouri's eastern district, said the state has the ability to not participate in joint operations. But he said those decisions are probably better made at a local level instead of an overall state policy.
Funderburk said the bill would only penalize federal officials who "knowingly" enforce a law that infringes on Second Amendment rights and is unconstitutional.
The most recent draft, pending on the Senate calendar, would punish those agents with possible civil damages stemming from lawsuits filed by Missourians who think their gun rights were infringed. It would also bar those agents for working in state or local law enforcement.
James claimed the bill would have unintended consequences and said lawsuits could stem from a federal law that bans firearm access to people convicted in domestic violence cases. He said those people could sue federal agents for confiscating their guns because no such prohibition exists under state law.
But Funderburk said that scenario wouldn't apply under the bill because courts have found that federal law to be constitutional. He added that a "loser pays" provision of the measure would prevent frivolous lawsuits by requiring the losing party to pay court costs.
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.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a similar bill last year and has expressed reservations about any legislation that seeks to nullify federal laws.