Supreme Court Allows Block of Missouri Gun Law to Remain in Effect

Matthew Vadum
By Matthew Vadum
October 20, 2023Supreme Court
Supreme Court Allows Block of Missouri Gun Law to Remain in Effect
Customers shop for a handgun at Metro Shooting Supplies in Bridgeton, Mo., on Nov. 12, 2014. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The Supreme Court has refused to reinstate a novel Missouri law that won’t allow local police to work with the federal government to enforce gun laws.

The court’s unsigned order in Missouri v. United States (court file 23A296) was issued late in the business day on Oct. 20.

This is not the final word on the law. The case is still before the lower courts and could return to the Supreme Court in the future.

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from the ruling but did not explain why.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito concurred with the order but said private citizens could still enforce Missouri’s two-year-old Second Amendment Preservation Act. The state statute declares the registration of firearms and limitations on their transfer to be unconstitutional.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, signed the law, which is also known as HB 85, in 2021.

The statute imposes $50,000 fines and bars local law enforcement from enforcing federal firearms laws that Missouri believes are unconstitutional. The state enforcement ban includes federal laws that mandate the registration of certain firearms, establish limits on who can sell guns, and restrict gun ownership, such as the longstanding federal law that prevents convicted felons from possessing guns, according to a SCOTUSblog summary.

In February 2022, the Biden administration sued the state to prevent it from enforcing the Second Amendment Preservation Act.

Brian Boynton of the U.S. Department of Justice said at the time that states “cannot simply declare federal laws invalid.” The Missouri statute “makes federal firearms laws difficult and strains the important law enforcement partnerships that help keep violent criminals off the street.”

Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Brian Wimes, who was appointed in 2012 by President Barack Obama, found the statute was unconstitutional because it runs afoul of the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which provides that state laws cannot invalidate federal laws and that federal laws prevail over inconsistent state laws.

Judge Wimes issued an injunction forbidding the state from enforcing the law.

Missouri asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit to stay the judge’s order but on Sept. 29, it refused to do so.

The Biden administration had asked the Supreme Court to deny the emergency application to stay the judge’s order.

In a brief filed on Oct. 10, U.S. Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar derided the Missouri law as an unconstitutional “nullificationist scheme” and said there was no reason for the nation’s highest court to get involved in the case.

“The Missouri Legislature is free to express its opinions about the Second Amendment, and it is also free to prohibit state and local officials from assisting in the enforcement of federal law.

“But it is not free to purport to nullify federal statutes; to direct state officials and courts to treat those statutes as invalid and to protect against their enforcement; or to regulate and discriminate against federal officials enforcing those statutes.

“This Court should not grant extraordinary emergency relief to allow Missouri to resume implementation of that nullificationist scheme,” Ms. Prelogar wrote.

In its emergency application to the Supreme Court, Missouri argued that the federal government lacks legal standing to challenge the law.

The federal government cannot establish an injury that is “legally and judicially cognizable” —or within the court’s jurisdiction and able to be tried in court—because the law “can be enforced only against Missouri agencies and Missouri political subdivisions, not the Federal Government—as the Missouri Supreme Court has explained.”

If it were otherwise, the federal government “would always have standing to bring constitutional challenges when a State exercised its Tenth Amendment authority not to help enforce federal law,” according to the application.

“The only thing the United States has identified is a constitutional interpretation it dislikes.”

The judge’s order “provides the United States with no redress from their (noncognizable) injury of decreased federal-state partnerships,” the document continues.

“Private individuals could still bring private suits in state court, and with the prospect of heavy penalties, political subdivisions would be unlikely to assist the federal government with enforcing certain federal statutes even with a federal injunction on the books.”

In a statement filed with Justice Thomas’s dissent, Justice Gorsuch agreed with the state’s argument about private enforcement of the law. His statement was joined by Justice Alito.

“With the understanding that the district court ‘prohibited’ only ‘implementation and enforcement’ of H.B. 85 by the State of ‘Missouri and its officers, agents, and employees’ and ‘any others in active concert with such individuals,’ … I agree with the denial of the application for a stay under the present circumstances. An injunction purporting to bind private parties not before the district court or the ‘challenged’ provisions ‘themselves,’ however, would be inconsistent with the ‘equitable powers of federal courts,” Justice Gorsuch wrote, citing a 2021 precedent.

The new ruling came a year after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which held that there is a constitutional right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey downplayed the significance of the Supreme Court ruling.

“This was a purely procedural matter,” the Republican official said in a statement to The Epoch Times.

“We look forward to defending Missourians’ Second Amendment rights at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.”

The Epoch Times has reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice for comment.

From The Epoch Times