The cases heard the Missouri Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 27, involve whether a voter-approved constitutional amendment gives a right to possess firearms to persons convicted of non-violent criminal offenses.
Missouri law bans any felon from possessing a weapon.
But in August 2014, Missouri voters approved an amendment that limits the legislature's authority to restrict gun rights of criminals to those convicted of violent felonies.
Before the state Supreme Court are three cases of persons charged with illegal firearm possession because of prior, non-violent felony offenses. All three charges were tossed out by St. Louis circuit courts based on the constitutional amendment.
St. Louis Assistant Circuit Attorney Veronica Harwin argued before the Supreme Court that the voter-approved change to the state Constitution did not absolutely prohibit prosecution.
"Throughout the country we've seen an epidemic of gun violence, lately, and this shows just how compelling the state interest is in protecting public safety from firearm violence," she argued.
Another attorney for the St. Louis City Circuit Attorney's office, Aaron Levinson, argued that the description of the constitutional amendment on the ballot was misleading to voters because it did not clearly state there would be a change in the rights of convicted criminals to possess firearms.
"There was nothing in the ballot title or way Amendment Five was presented which would have alerted," Levison began to argue before interrupted by Judge Richard Teitelman who asked "How do you know what the voters were thinking."
Teitelman continued, "So, should we just ignore the actual constitutional amendment?"
That amendment declares the "right of every citizen to keep and bear arms, ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms." The amendment defines that right as "unalienable."
The sentence in question is the amendment's last: "Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the general assembly from enacting general laws which limit the rights of convicted violent felons or those adjudicated by a court to be a danger to self or others as a result of mental disorder or mental infirmity."
Before the court is the question as to whether that one sentence
prohibits any ban on a non-violent felon from possessing a firearm.
Or, must there be some proof that a non-violent offender presents such a risk to public safety that a firearm ban is warranted?A lawyer for the circuit attorney's office argued that a prior felony conviction, even a non-violent felony, made it more possible the person would commit a future crime.
But Judge Teitleman questioned restricting gun rights for someone
convicted of an offense like possessing more than a small amount of