JEFFERSON CITY - As Congress considers tightening federal gun laws in response to last year's school shooting in Connecticut, Republicans in the Missouri Legislature moved Tuesday to limit the power of any new federal measures within the state's borders.
Republicans and Democrats debated Tuesday on several different gun bills that oppose future federal laws that restrict firearm rights in Missouri.
Obama announced 23 executive orders in January as a response to the December school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Obama then asked Congress to pass laws to require background checks on gun sales, ban assault or military-style weapons, and limit the capacity of magazines.
Missouri legislators heard several pending gun bills throughout the day Tuesday.
The pending legislation includes a bill that would have required students and teacher to get yearly gun training on how to respond to school shootings, one bill that would make Missouri legislators felons if they propose bills that restricts gun laws, a proposed Missouri constitutional amendment allows citizens to bear arms to defend their family, another bill that states federal law has no jurisdiction over guns made exclusively in Missouri, and even a bill would make it unlawful to enforce federal law that restricts rights for guns made it Missouri that stay in the state.
The Senate gave first-round approval to the gun training bill. The bill had initially required such training but Democrats pushed through a change to make the measure optional.
Early in the debate Tuesday, Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, said she was strongly opposed to the bill. She said there is already too much gun violence in urban areas and that legislators should focus on bills about gun control.
“There are people who don’t care about a black life,” Chappelle-Nadal said. “And they have legislation such as this that puts our citizens and our communities at risk, more than they already are.”
But later in the day she put forth the change to make the bill optional. The bill must be approved once more by the Senate before it goes to the House.
Rep. Mike Leara, R-St. Louis, doesn’t want to focus on gun control laws at all if they restrict gun rights. He introduced a bill Monday that would make it illegal for Missouri legislators to propose legislation that would limit gun rights.
If convicted, legislators would be class D felons under the bill which is punishable by up to four years in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Leara refused to speak to Capitol reporters but did release a statement Tuesday.
"I filed [the bill] as a matter of principle and as a statement in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all Missourians," said Leara in the statement. "I have no illusions about the bill making it through the legislative process, but I want it to be clear that the Missouri House will stand in defense of the people's Constitutional right to keep and bear arms."
Both House and Senate General Laws Committees heard gun-related bills on Tuesday and the Senate panel even heard a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that states citizens have the right to bear arms to defend their family as well as their home, property, and their self.
Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, sponsor of the amendment proposal, said all rights under the Missouri Constitution should be equally enforced including the right to bear arms.
“Some of them because they may currently be less popular are no less important,” said Schaeffer in reference to gun rights in his proposed amendment.
If the General Assembly approves the amendment, Missouri citizens would vote on it in 2014.
The House committee heard two gun-related bills Tuesday. One bill states federal law wouldn’t have authority over firearms made exclusively in Missouri.
Sponsoring Rep. Chrissy Sommer, R-St. Charles, said there are eight other states with similar legislation and she is trying to follow in their lead.
“The federal government has overstepped its boundaries” said Sommer in reference to federal laws that would restrict rights on guns made in Missouri for Missourians.
Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, said if the bill passed the Assembly then Missouri could risk losing federal funds for not abiding federal laws.
“Is it worth it at the end of the day?” Colona asked.
“And is it worth federal dollars? I would have to say yeah,” said Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge, as an answer to Colona’s question.
Several Missouri residents spoke in favor of the bill and said Missouri should be able to regulate gun laws within the state’s boundaries without interference from federal law.
“Our government is supposed to run from the bottom up,” said Saint Peters resident Mark Perez. “Here we have the federal government dictating downward.”
Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, is sponsoring the second gun-related bill heard in the House committee. The bill would make it unlawful for state officers, state employees, and firearm dealers to enforce federal acts about guns and ammunition that’s made or owned in Missouri. The bill wouldn’t relate to past legislations that are already in tact.
Guernsey said he didn’t anticipate at the start of the session that he would be the position where he had to create a bill to protect basic Constitutional rights to keep and bear arms.
“Unfortunately that’s the situation we’re in,” Guernsey said.
Colona and Rep. Jeremy LaFaver, D-Kansas City, voiced concern about state officers and federal officers coming into conflict with one another because of this bill.
“It appeared to me that a United States attorney prosecuting a case for a felon in possession of a firearm could be found guilty as a Class D felony under this bill,” Colona said.
Colona also said under this bill if a highway patrolmen arrest a federal agent with a felony then the patrolman could be charged with obstruction of justice.
The gun-related bills and constitutional amendment are still pending in their legislative committees.