JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (CN) — Missouri’s Republican leadership on Thursday pushed back on Department of Justice claims that the state’s new gun enforcement law illegally overrides federal law.
Governor Mike Parson on Saturday signed into law new rules that penalize local police departments if their officers enforce federal gun restrictions. Republican lawmakers who passed the legislation said they were driven by the potential for more restrictive gun laws on the national level under the Biden administration.
The DOJ responded with a letter on Wednesday to Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt that warned them states cannot go against the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause, which holds that state law cannot conflict or supersede federal law.
Parson and Schmitt pushed back on those claims in a response letter to the DOJ on Thursday, claiming the Biden administration is infringing on Missourians’ Second Amendment rights.
“We will reject any attempt by the federal government to circumvent the fundamental right Missourians have to keep and bear arms to protect themselves and their property,” Parson said in a statement. “Throughout my career, I have always stood for the Constitution and our Second Amendment rights, and that will not change today or any day.”
The seven-page letter written by Schmitt makes three points: that the right to keep and bear arms is inalienable and a critical backstop to liberty; that Missouri has the right to refuse to enforce unconstitutional infringements by the federal government; and that Missouri will defend its citizens and its laws from federal government overreach.
“Missourians’ and Americans’ Second Amendment rights are enshrined in the Constitution – I will defend those rights at every turn,” Schmitt said in a statement. “Our letter to Biden’s Department of Justice sends a clear message: we will fight any attempts from the federal government to encroach on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.”
The Missouri leaders accuse the DOJ of purposefully leaking its letter to the media and say that letter is “riddled with a misunderstanding of the law and falsehoods.”
Their own letter continues, “Missouri is not attempting to nullify federal law. Instead, Missouri is defending its people from federal government overreach by prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies from being used by the federal government to infringe Missourians’ right to keep and bear arms.”
Thursday's letter notes that the DOJ’s letter conflicts with President Joe Biden’s policy toward sanctuary cities.
“In April, the Office of Justice Programs reportedly repealed the Department of Justice’s policy that required recipients of a law enforcement grant to cooperate with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a condition of their funding,” the letter states.
It added, “President Biden and the Department of Justice have decided to reward states and cities that refuse to cooperate with enforcing constitutional immigration laws that protect our citizens against foreign threats, but now they attack Missouri for refusing to cooperate with enforcing unconstitutional gun confiscation laws that put our citizens in danger and degrade their rights.”
Whether successful or not, the gesture is sure to curry favor for Parson and Schmitt among Missouri’s conservative rural voting base.
Parson, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump, was elected to a a four-year term as governor in November after taking over following the resignation of Eric Greitens in June 2018.
Schmitt announced his candidacy for U.S. Senate in March, joining a crowded Republican field vying to fill the seat of Roy Blunt, who is not seeking re-election in 2022. Schmitt promised to push Trump’s “America First” agenda and recently made headlines when he sued St. Louis County seeking to loosen the county’s Covid-19 restrictions.
The DOJ’s letter, which sparked the response, was sent by Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton. It claimed that the state law threatens to disrupt the working relationship between federal and local authorities, noting that Missouri receives federal grants and technical assistance.
Boynton wrote that the legislation "conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulation." He emphasized that federal agents and the U.S. attorney's offices in Missouri would continue to enforce all federal firearms laws and regulations.
Gun control is a priority of the Biden administration. The House has already passed two bills requiring background checks on firearms sales and an expanded review for gun purchases, neither of which has yet been passed by the evenly divided Senate.
Missouri's law would subject law enforcement agencies with officers who knowingly enforce any federal laws to a fine of about $50,000 per violating officer. It is the latest attempt by state lawmakers to loosen gun laws, which include abandoning training requirements and background checks.
The state's Republican-dominated Legislature passed the law in advance of anticipated gun restriction laws from the Biden administration. State Democrats claim the law is unconstitutional and believe it would not pass a challenge in the courts.
At least three other states have passed similar legislation banning police from enforcing federal gun laws, according to the Associated Press.
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