Missouri Legislature Fails to Override Governor’s Veto of Controversial Gun Law

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Orlin Wagner / AP

Speaker Rep. Timothy Jones, R-Eureka, points to a member for more debate on House Bill 253 during special session at the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, Mo., Sep. 11, 2013.

The Missouri General Assembly failed Wednesday in an effort to override the governor’s veto and enact the Second Amendment Preservation Act, which sought to invalidate federal laws that “infringe on the people’s right to keep and bear arms” in the state. The provision would have also made it a crime to publish the name of or information about someone who owns a firearm. To override the veto, the legislature needed supermajorities (two-thirds of the members); the measure passed the house, but came up short in the senate by one vote.

The bill, which passed through the state’s Republican-controlled legislature in May, was vetoed by Democratic Governor Jay Nixon in July. In his veto letter, Nixon said the bill violated the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and sought “to turn the hierarchy of our national framework of laws on its head in clear violation of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.” The Supremacy Clause, which gives precedence to the laws of the nation over those of respective states, has often been at the center of tension between states and the federal government, from Supreme Court cases in the 19th century through the Civil Rights era to the present.

The governor also argued that the bill’s criminalization of publishing the names of gun owners violates the First Amendment. The law, he reasoned, would make it a crime for a local newspaper to publish a photograph of a young Missourian who shoots his first turkey or deer. Democrats in both the state’s house and senate argued that the ban on publishing names of gun owners was too broadly drawn, and that the nullification provision of the bill would most certainly be struck down by a federal court.

Laws passed in several states in recent years have sought to nullify federal drug laws and the Affordable Care Act, and other states have taken a similar stance to invalidate federal gun laws. But legal experts say that the Missouri gun bill is distinctive because it actually makes it a crime for a federal agent to enforce federal laws. Last week, St. Louis County Chief of Police Tim Fitch said that the law would hinder the ability of his officers to enforce gun laws and cause them to disband their task forces with federal agencies.

Republicans succeeded in overriding six of the governor’s vetoes in the first day of the special session, but they failed to enact the two most controversial measures: the gun bill, and a sweeping tax cut. The special session will continue as legislators vote on the nearly two-dozen vetoed bills left on the docket.