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DOJ sues Missouri over its law restricting enforcement of federal gun laws

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

There's a battle brewing between the U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Missouri. And this could have wide-reaching impacts. It centers on a firearm law. The state law explicitly discourages locals from enforcing the federal law banning certain types of weapons. In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the law limits cooperation with federal authorities and is making the community less safe. Here's NPR's Carrie Johnson explaining what this Missouri law does.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: It's called the Second Amendment Preservation Act. And it went into effect last August, 2021. It prohibits local police and highway patrols from enforcing several federal gun laws. And in practice, it limits the kinds of interactions that locals can have with federal authorities. The state law also creates penalties for local officers who help the feds. They could be forced to pay $50,000 to anyone who says their Second Amendment rights were violated. Here's what Missouri Governor Mike Parson said last year when he signed this bill into law.

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MIKE PARSON: The purpose is to stand up to the federal government, which we have to do, as individuals - and be able to go up there and say, look; we are the people. We're the people. You're not the people.

MARTINEZ: So Carrie, what's been the fallout from this law in Missouri?

JOHNSON: The Justice Department says it's had a big impact on crime-fighting. Many local police say the law goes too far and could hurt public safety. They're worrying about getting sued, so they aren't sharing information. And many have pulled out of federal task forces designed to crack down on gun violence. DOJ says about 80% of violent crimes in the state are committed with firearms. Last month, I spoke with Quinton Lucas, the mayor of Kansas City, about crime there. Lucas said he was worried about the fallout from this law.

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QUINTON LUCAS: It has a very severe - incredibly severe effect in Kansas City. The example would be that registering firearms that we find into a federal database is something that more law enforcement departments in Kansas City, in Missouri, are avoided.

MARTINEZ: There have been several recent clashes between the U.S. Justice Department and some Republican-led states. What legal issues are in tension here?

JOHNSON: Missouri is asserting control over its law enforcement agencies and making a strong statement about the Second Amendment. But the DOJ says the Missouri law violates the supremacy clause of the Constitution. DOJ says a state can't just declare any federal laws, including gun laws, invalid. It wants a judge to block this Missouri law and make clear that police in the state can cooperate with federal agents from the ATF and the FBI to do things like help trace guns used in crimes. Justice says this is hurting crime-fighting efforts at exactly the wrong moment, when gun crime is up in a lot of places.

MARTINEZ: Carrie, so what happens next here?

JOHNSON: Yeah. There have already been lawsuits in state court trying to block the Missouri law. And the Missouri Police Chiefs Association has been asking for lawmakers to clear up the confusion so they can do their jobs. Now the Justice Department has brought a federal case, so a new legal front has opened. Missouri's attorney general, Eric Schmitt, a Republican who's currently running in a primary race for the U.S. Senate, says the law is on his side in this case. And he intends to beat the Biden administration in court. And also, this could have consequences beyond Missouri. Iowa and more than a dozen other states are considering laws just like this one.

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks a lot.

JOHNSON: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.