The Biden Justice Department on Wednesday asked a court to block a Missouri law that declares certain federal gun laws invalid and threatens financial penalties on state and local agencies that enforce them, arguing the measure violated the Constitution and undermined public safety.
A dozen local officers withdrew from participating in Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives task forces at least in part because of the law, an ATF official asserted in an affidavit, and several state and local law enforcement agencies indicated they would no longer input data into a national system that helps investigators match ballistics evidence with crimes across the nation.
“In sum, HB85 has caused, and will continue to cause, significant harms to law enforcement within the State of Missouri,” the Justice Department argued, using the number of the bill.
The law at issue — known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act — takes aim broadly at federal laws and regulations having to do with taxes, registration and transfer of firearms. It threatens $50,000 fines for local jurisdictions or governments that enforce the provisions at issue, which it declares to be “infringements on the people’s right to keep and bear arms.” It was sponsored by Republican state Rep. Jered Taylor and signed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson.
“The Second Amendment Preservation Act is about protecting law-abiding Missourians against government overreach and unconstitutional federal mandates,” Parson said in a statement provided to The Washington Post on Wednesday. “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. 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 measure generated confusion and concern among some local jurisdictions and law enforcement officers, who worried it would hamper their ability to work with federal agencies, especially the ATF, on crime-fighting efforts. The city of St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jackson County filed a lawsuit seeking to block the law.
In an affidavit, Frederic D. Winston, the special agent in charge of the ATF’s Kansas City division, noted that gun crime is an acute problem in Missouri. In 2020, he wrote, the Missouri State Highway Patrol reported more than 13,800 firearms offenses, and of the state’s 730 homicides, about 75 percent involved a firearm. So far in 2021, he wrote, the highway patrol has reported more than 8,000 firearms offenses, and about 75 percent of its 218 homicides involved a firearm.
“ATF’s role in limiting unlawful access to firearms is thus key to preventing additional violent crimes in the state,” he wrote.
Under pressure from gun-control advocates, President Biden earlier this year announced a series of executive actions intended to curb gun violence and pledged to push for sweeping change to the country’s firearms laws. Attorney General Merrick Garland also has emphasized the Justice Department’s need to do more to prevent gun deaths, saying at a May congressional hearing the problem was a “law enforcement and a public health issue.”
That same month, the Justice Department released a proposed rule that would put new restrictions on so-called “ghost guns” — kits that allow buyers to assemble firearms without a serial number.
The rule drew pushback from the National Rifle Association, which said it would “do nothing to address violent crime while further burdening law-abiding gun owners and the lawful firearm industry with overbroad regulations.” The NRA has also voiced concern over Biden’s nominee to lead the ATF: David Chipman, a former ATF agent and now a senior adviser to a gun-control group founded by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was severely injured in a mass shooting in 2011.
Chipman’s nomination has languished on Capitol Hill, with the White House and Senate Democrats struggling to muster support even in their own ranks.