Updated Feb 16, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Justice Department sues Missouri over federal gun laws

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice on January 5, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaking at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. Photo: Carolyn Kaster-Pool/Getty Images

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Missouri on Wednesday in an attempt to stop officials from enforcing a bill that would ban local police from following federal gun laws that the state declared "invalid."

Why it matters: It alleges that Missouri's Second Amendment Preservation Act is unconstitutional and hindering law enforcement efforts in a state where "nearly 80% of violent crimes are committed with firearms," per a Justice Department statement. Missouri officials vowed to fight the suit, which they say attacks Second Amendment rights.

Driving the news: The bill, which was signed into law last June, penalizes federal, state and local law enforcement officers for enforcing federal laws, according to the Department of Justice.

  • The statute also "penalizes current federal employees by barring them from state employment if they enforced the purportedly invalid laws," the DOJ added.
  • "The statute further directs the state judiciary to 'protect' against the federal laws declared invalid."

What they're saying: Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the DOJ statement that the act "impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri."

  • Brian Boynton, who heads the DOJ's Civil Division, added, "A state cannot simply declare federal laws invalid.
  • "This act makes enforcement of federal firearms laws difficult and strains the important law enforcement partnerships that help keep violent criminals off the street."

The other side: State Attorney General Eric Schmitt accused the DOJ in a statement of using the suit "as a pretext for them to pull ... our successful and innovative federal-state crime fighting partnership, the Safer Streets Initiative," whereby attorneys from his office were "deputized as assistant U.S. attorneys to help prosecute violent crimes," per AP.

  • "Time and again, the Biden Administration has put partisan politics ahead of public safety," Schmitt added.
  • "Make no mistake, the law is on our side in this case, and I intend to beat the Biden Administration in court once again."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with comment from Schmitt.

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