JEFFERSON CITY — A vote on a highly anticipated gun bill in the Missouri Senate turned into a wider debate on domestic violence and the Republican majority’s priorities Thursday, with Senate Democrats engaging in a lengthy filibuster before the bill ultimately passed.
The Republican-backed House Bill 85, which now returns to the House for final approval, would establish the Second Amendment Preservation Act, or SAPA, and effectively nullify federal gun laws in the state.
The legislation would declare any federal law deemed to “restrict or prohibit … the manufacture, ownership and use of firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition” in Missouri as beyond the authority granted to the federal government. It would also prohibit state law enforcement from working with federal authorities to enforce such laws and allow for fines of police departments whose officers enforce those laws.
The bill has enjoyed broad support from state Republicans and fierce opposition from Democrats, as well as pushback from some local law enforcement agencies concerned about the legislation’s implications for their own safety and ability to coordinate with federal authorities.
On Thursday, after bill handler Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, introduced and advocated for the legislation on the Senate floor, Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, proposed an amendment that touched off several hours of debate among members and eventually a full-blown filibuster.
Arthur’s amendment would bar Missouri residents convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors from purchasing and possessing firearms in the state. Currently, law enforcement is unable to prevent such individuals from obtaining guns, a loophole unintentionally created in 2016 when the legislature passed a law allowing the concealed carry of firearms without a permit in Missouri.
Lawmakers that year realized their error the night before a planned override of then-Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto but moved forward with the override anyway, saying they intended to fix the loophole in the next year’s session.
Five years later, the loophole hasn’t been closed. Arthur’s amendment, which she argued aligns with the views of most Missouri residents, would have closed it.
“People agree that if you commit violent offenses and have proven yourself to pose a threat to public safety, you have forfeited your right to own a firearm,” Arthur said. “If you decide to beat your wife, then again, the consequence of that is that you should not have access to something that you can use to kill her.”
Arthur and other Democrats also cited the lethality that guns introduce into domestic abuse situations that are already dangerous. As the Missourian has previously reported, research shows that women who are victims of domestic abuse are five times more likely to be killed when their abuser has access to firearms.
In Missouri from 2015 to 2019, 74% of female intimate-partner homicide victims were killed by guns — a total of 109 women — compared with a national rate of 59%. The state also has the second-highest rate of men killing women overall, behind only Alaska.
Several Republicans voiced objections to the amendment, saying they agreed with its intent but took issue with some of its potential ramifications.
Sen. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, implied that some of the offenses that would preclude gun ownership under Arthur’s amendment did not rise to the level of warranting the loss of one’s right to bear firearms.
“The heart is right in the want to protect people. But at the same time, I see how this, in a real-world application, when tempers are flared, how somebody can be charged with these sorts of things,” Brattin said, before expressing concern that the amendment’s language “could be really misapplied and infringe on people’s ability (to bear arms) when it was just a really bad night.”
Sen. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, suggested that the highly charged nature of the broader debate around guns was dividing lawmakers along partisan lines and blinding Republicans to the real-life impacts of the amendment.
“We’re literally debating, in my opinion, how violent can you be to your spouse and still keep your guns?” Rizzo said.
“Are you more pro-life? Or are you more (pro-) Second Amendment?” asked Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, making Rizzo’s framing more explicit. “That’s what this boils down to.”
A different objection to Arthur’s amendment came from Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, who said it fell outside the scope of the underlying bill establishing SAPA.
Under Senate rules, amendments cannot deviate from the “sole purpose” of the bills they are attached to. If they do, the Senate parliamentarian — currently Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan — may rule in a point of order that the amendment is invalid.
Onder argued that because Arthur’s amendment was beyond the scope of HB 85’s original purpose of adding new Second Amendment protections, it would open up the underlying bill to legal challenges by anti-gun advocates later this year.
“I don’t mean to say that (Arthur) is exploiting the very serious issue of domestic violence in order to set up a challenge to strike down SAPA in 2021, but I think very clearly her amendment would have that effect,” Onder said.
Arthur disputed that argument, saying her amendment was germane to SAPA and challenging Onder to ask for a point of order to rule on the amendment’s validity on the spot.
“You know, that’s not necessary,” Onder said. “I think we can just vote on your amendment.”
That vote did not come until many hours later, as Democrats filibustered the bill until the amendment was voted on shortly before 9 p.m. The amendment failed, and SAPA subsequently passed 22-10 on a party-line vote.
Over the course of the hourslong debate, lawmakers reported being targeted by threats over the pending SAPA.
Arthur said her cellphone began to “blow up” with threatening messages while she was on the Senate floor introducing her amendment. Later in the day, Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said he and his family had also received threats from individuals expressing support for SAPA and that police were stationed outside his house.
Rowden had tweeted Wednesday night, without referencing specific legislation, “I am disappointed in the tone and demeanor of interactions, including threats against me and my family, related to bills of interest at the end of this #MOLeg session. Civility and respect must exist alongside passion for a principled/political cause. We can and must do better!”
The legislation now moves to the House, where it passed in February by a 103-43 vote. If it receives final approval there, it will head to Gov. Mike Parson’s desk for the governor’s signature.