Missouri legislators take on federal gun laws

September 9, 2013
Jay Nixon

Members of the Missouri legislature could give citizens the right to sue any law enforcement officer who enforces federal gun laws when they return to Jefferson City for a special session this week.

The legislature will vote on whether to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s (D) veto of a bill that would prohibit the state from recognizing federal gun laws. The measure also would prohibit publication of the names and addresses of firearm owners, information some newspapers published in the wake of last year’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The bill passed both the state House and Senate by wide margins. Republicans hold 109 of the state House’s 163 seats and 24 of 34 Senate seats, though a few rural Democrats joined the majority too.

But in July, Nixon vetoed the bill, calling it an “unnecessary and unconstitutional attempt to nullify federal laws.” The prohibition on publishing names of gun owners, Nixon said, could conceivably be used to sue a reporter writing about a candidate for office, if that person owned a firearm, or a newspaper that publishes a photograph of a teenager after his or her first turkey hunt.

“Putting aside the perplexing paradox of seeking to protect one constitutional right by so significantly diminishing another, curtailing speech in such a manner clearly violates the free exercise of speech protected by the state and federal constitutions,” Nixon wrote in his veto message.

If the legislature overrides Nixon’s veto, the measure will almost certainly head to court. Several states have tried to circumvent federal laws on issues like taxes and school desegregation, all of which were struck down.

Nixon is no anti-gun zealot. At the same time he vetoed the gun bill, he signed another measure, which allows state employees to keep firearms in their vehicles on state property, into law. Nixon signed other pro-gun rights legislation into law in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

The Missouri legislature also will try to override Nixon vetoes on bills lowering personal income and corporate taxes, and requiring public employee unions to get consent from members before deducting dues from their paychecks. The tax cut bill would lower Missouri’s personal income tax by half a percentage point, from 6 percent to 5.5 percent, and the corporate tax three points, from 6.25 percent to 3.25 percent.

Republicans need 109 votes in the House to override Nixon’s vetoes — the exact number of seats they control now. They need 23 votes in the Senate to circumvent Nixon’s veto pen.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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