Missouri House endorses gun rights amendment

Wednesday, May 7, 2014 | 7:34 a.m. CDT; updated 12:46 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, May 7, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri lawmakers sent voters a proposed amendment to the state constitution on Wednesday intended to strengthen the right to bear arms.

The Republican-led Senate voted 23-8 to add the bill to the statewide November general election ballot. The proposal passed the House a day earlier with a 122-31 vote.

The amendment would define the right to bear arms as "unalienable" and require the state to defend against any "infringement" of that right. It would also include keeping ammunition and defending one's "family" with a firearm as guaranteed constitutional rights.

The state constitution already protects the right to bear arms in defense of an individual's home, property and person. Supporters contend the measure would force courts to use a higher standard of review when considering the constitutionality of gun controls.

"The right to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right and has been so since the founding of this country," said Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

But many Democrats opposed the measure and argued the constitutional amendment could make it harder to regulate guns and violent criminals.

"You're putting people's lives in jeopardy with this resolution," said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights. "What problem are you trying to correct with this?"

If passed by voters, the amendment would also specify that the legislature could still impose restrictions on gun ownership for convicted violent felons and the mentally ill.

In addition to strengthening Missouri's gun protections, state lawmakers are also considering legislation this year that seeks to declare null and void any federal gun laws deemed to infringe on law-abiding citizens. Courts have consistently ruled that states cannot nullify federal laws.

Missouri voters rejected a 1999 ballot measure to authorize law enforcement to issue concealed weapons permits. Despite the defeat, the legislature adopted the measure in 2003.

For the amendment passed Wednesday, voters will be asked: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to include a declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is an unalienable right and that the state government is obligated to uphold that right?"

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