Justice Department sues Missouri over new gun law

February 17, 2022 GMT

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Department of Justice on Wednesday sued Missouri over a contested new law banning local police from enforcing federal gun laws just days after pulling out of a state crime-fighting partnership.

The Justice Department has said the law, which declares “invalid” federal gun regulations that don’t have an equivalent in Missouri law, has scared police departments away from helping the federal government fight violent crime. Agencies risk being sued for $50,000 by private citizens who believe their Second Amendment rights have been violated.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that the law “impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri.”

“A state cannot simply declare federal laws invalid,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, in a statement. “This act makes enforcement of federal firearms laws difficult and strains the important law enforcement partnerships that help keep violent criminals off the street.”

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Federal laws without similar Missouri laws include statutes covering weapons registration and tracking, and possession of firearms by some domestic violence offenders.

Conflict over Missouri’s law also wrecked the crime-fighting partnership with U.S. attorneys that Missouri’s Republican Attorney General Eric Schmitt has touted for years. Under Schmitt’s Safer Streets Initiative, attorneys from his office were deputized as assistant U.S. attorneys to help prosecute violent crimes.

A spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General’s Office said the Justice Department on Friday dropped out of the program.

“Time and again, the Biden Administration has put partisan politics ahead of public safety,” Schmitt said in a statement in response to the lawsuit. “Make no mistake, the law is on our side in this case, and I intend to beat the Biden Administration in court once again.”

The Justice Department lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, seeks to block the state from enforcing the law.

A separate state lawsuit seeking to overturn the law is pending in the Missouri Supreme Court. Supreme Court judges earlier this month heard arguments in that case. They did not indicate when they might rule.