JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Republicans moved a step closer in their attempt to nullify some federal gun laws Wednesday when the Senate passed legislation that would bar federal workers from some state careers for enforcing such policies.
The Senate voted 23-8 to send the bill back to the House, where it passed earlier. The House can either accept the Senate's changes or negotiate a compromise version.
Senators voted for the bill along party lines, with Republicans in support and Democrats in opposition. It would declare "null and void" any past, present or future federal law deemed to be an infringement on gun rights for law-abiding citizens.
Federal agents who knowingly enforce those laws could face civil penalties stemming from lawsuits filed by Missouri residents who think their gun rights were infringed. Those workers would also be banned from future careers in state or local enforcement.
"We want to cause a reason for law enforcement to have a healthy pause before they might infringe on the Second Amendment rights of Missouri citizens," said Sen. Brian Nieves, R-Washington.
One of the major differences between the House and Senate is the punishment for federal workers who enforce certain gun laws. The House version would only allow agents to be sued and would not subject them to the employment ban included in the Senate bill.
Opponents contend the measure is unconstitutional because courts have ruled that states cannot nullify federal gun laws. They also said the bill could undermine cooperation between federal and local officials.
The mayors of Missouri's two largest cities and a federal prosecutor came to the state Capitol this week to warn that joint task forces to combat gang and other gun violence would effectively end if the bill becomes law.
"I'm not here to say if we were to ban guns or do anything that those numbers would change," Missouri Senate Minority Leader Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City, said about urban crime rates. "But I am going to say that there are things we could be doing to make our cities safer."
Nieves said the mayors never brought concerns to him about joint operations with the federal government. Supporters argue the measure applies only to federal laws that are unconstitutional in the first place and therefore wouldn't affect current crime-fighting.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed similar legislation this year and has said he is concerned about any measure that attempts to nullify federal laws. The Senate passed the measure Wednesday with the minimum amount of votes needed to override a potential veto.
Among the other provisions of this year's bill, designated personnel would be allowed to carry weapons in school buildings after undergoing training. Staff could choose to carry pepper spray instead of a gun.
Another part would allow concealed gun permit holders to carry firearms openly, even in municipalities with ordinances banning open carry. It would reduce the minimum age to get a concealed weapons permit to 19 from the current age of 21. Health care professionals could also not be required to ask or document whether a patient owns a firearm.