This legislative session, Missouri lawmakers are moving forward on SB 39, dangerous nullification legislation that would prohibit Missouri state and local law enforcement from assisting in the enforcement of federal public safety laws.
SB 39 would purport to nullify an array of federal public safety laws, prevent Missouri state and local law enforcement from assisting in the enforcement of these laws, and threaten to penalize police, prosecutors, and other Missouri government employees for taking steps to protect their communities.
Not only is the bill a dangerous attempt to undermine public safety laws and punish law enforcement officers for doing their jobs, a significant part of the bill is unconstitutional. This provision depends on a theory of state power that is long-discredited and would be struck down under the Supremacy Clause of the federal constitution. In a seething editorial on Friday, the Kansas City Star Editorial Board wrote:
“To see the Missouri Senate waste time and energy on an unconstitutional, unnecessary measure like SB 39 is frustrating. It’s doubly concerning when gun violence continues to rock the state, leading to record murders in some cities.
“Lawmakers should spend their time discussing reasonable rules that could cut down on that violence, or give cities and counties authority to address their unique challenges. Burlison’s bill does none of that.
“Missouri faces enormous problems, including a still-dangerous pandemic, anemic COVID-19 vaccine distribution, crumbling highways, high unemployment and poor health care in rural areas. We urge lawmakers to focus their attention on those concerns, and not unconstitutional bills that won’t solve anything at all.”
Missouri continues to face over 1,100 gun deaths a year and has the fifth highest rate of gun deaths in the nation. Nullification legislation would undermine law enforcement efforts to curb this violence by interfering with the enforcement of federal public safety laws.
Missouri already has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. Missouri has no law requiring background checks on unlicensed gun sales and no laws prohibiting domestic abusers from possessing guns. State law also allows people to carry hidden, loaded handguns in public without a permit or safety training. Federal laws to require background checks and prohibit domestic abusers from accessing guns are already dangerously incomplete without matching laws at the state level. Under SB 39, Missouri law enforcement officers would no longer be able to assist federal authorities in keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.