KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A new Missouri law banning police from enforcing federal gun rules has some law enforcement agencies pulling officers off federal taskforces and others trying to figure out what is allowed.
Emails obtained by The Kansas City Star show that federal prosecutors in the eastern part of the state have asked at least a dozen police departments whether they will stop participating in federal gun crime investigations. The FBI has also queried a southwest Missouri police department, and is assessing the responses of local police statewide.
At least two departments have pulled officers from assignments with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, spokesmen confirmed. And the Missouri State Highway Patrol has suspended its participation in an ATF task force, to which one trooper was assigned full-time and three part-time, Lt. Eric Brown said.
“With the passage of HB 85, Patrol members can continue to serve on federal task forces except where the task force’s primary focus is on weapons violations,” Brown said.
The new law declares many federal gun regulations invalid in Missouri, including those covering weapons registration, tracking, and possession of firearms by some domestic violence offenders.
Local departments are barred from enforcing them, or risk being sued for $50,000. They also are prohibited from assisting federal agents in enforcing laws declared invalid, and from hiring former federal agents who had enforced them.
The law’s passage was a victory for gun rights activists who have pushed it for nearly a decade in the Missouri legislature. But law enforcement agencies have raised concerns that it will hamper their ability to investigate crimes alongside federal agents when guns are used or involved. In those cases, prosecutors often pursue gun charges because they come with additional penalties upon sentencing.
St. Louis city and county have sued the state over the law, seeking to block it from taking effect. Last month, a U.S. Justice Department official wrote to Parson and Attorney General Eric Schmitt saying HB 85 “conflicts with federal firearms laws and regulation” and threatens to disrupt the working relationship between federal and local authorities.
“Missouri is not attempting to nullify federal law,” Schmitt and Parson wrote back. “Instead, Missouri is defending its people from federal government overreach by prohibiting state and local law enforcement agencies from being used by the federal government to infringe (on) Missourians’ right to keep and bear arms.”
The law’s sponsor, Rep. Jered Taylor, said he didn’t see any reason why local police would need to withdraw from federal agency partnerships, unless Congress passes further measures pushed by the Biden administration such as magazine restrictions or an assault rifles ban.
“Law enforcement is still going to be able to work with federal partners, after working months and months with law enforcement across the state to make sure we had a bill that not only protect Second Amendment rights but make sure law enforcement is still able to do their job,” he said.
Kevin Merritt, executive director of the Missouri Sheriff’s Association, said the law is worded vaguely enough that some police feel a “chilling effect” that could keep them from working with federal agents at all, for fear of being sued. But he added that there hasn’t been a “mass exodus” from partnerships.
“They’re proceeding cautiously,” he said.