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Police Chief, Circuit Attorney Say "Unalienable" Gun Rights Amendment Misleads Voters

gunconstituion.jpg
Flickr/KazVorpal
A proposed Missouri constitutional amendment would beef up state gun laws to match the "unalienable" rights in the Declaration of Independence, and that's setting off alarm bells with St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce.

Both have filed lawsuits targeting state legislators for misrepresenting the amendment on the August 5 primary election ballot. The ballot includes the question: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to include a declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is a unalienable right and that the state government is obligated to uphold that right?"

"It doesn't tell voters that 140 years of law is going to be wiped out," says attorney Burt Newman, who filed Joyce's motion on Wednesday. "People have a right to know."

See also: Police Nab Suspects in Merciless Nerf Gun Drive-By Shooting

The problem is that the actual constitutional amendment, Senate Joint Resolution 36, does a lot more than instruct Missouri to declare its eternal love for existing state gun rights: If the amendment passes, the right to bear arms in Missouri would include concealed carry and "ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms."

However, Newman says, the most troubling part of SJR 36 is the provision that would apply a "strict scrutiny" level of protection to all gun laws, meaning that anyone trying to strike down or regulate existing gun rights would face the highest level of legal opposition from Missouri judges. But neither this detail nor the words "strict scrutiny" are anywhere to be found in the question posed to voters on the ballot.

"It doesn't point out to voters the seriousness of this amendment and how it's going to elevate gun laws to a status that is almost beyond any right we have as citizens," says Newman. He expects most voters would look at the ballot's question and assume it simply reaffirmed Missouri's present laws.

civilwarrifle.JPG
Flickr/RonCogswell
Missourians didn't need "unalienable" state gun rights in the 1870s, back when these rifles were cutting edge.
The ballot measure's truth-in-advertising problems have attracted high-level opposition among the state's criminal justice officials as well as gun regulation activists. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker also joined Joyce's lawsuit this week, while St. Louis Metropolitan Police's Dotson filed similar motions last week alongside Rebecca Morgan, a member of the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

Dotson's lawsuit points out that when SJR 36 didn't include the "strict scrutiny" provision when it was introduced, but the bill's sponsor, Republican Senator Kurt Schaeffer, didn't update the ballot question after it was added later in committee.

The lawsuit also suggests people could assume that Missouri has no existing law protecting the right to bear arms:

The right to keep and bear arms is a long-established right in the Missouri Constitution's Bill of Rights, and the summary statement will mislead voters to believe that there is no current right to keep and bear arms in the Missouri Constitution...Government is already required to follow the Missouri Constitution - the proposed amendment changes nothing in that regard. The inclusion of that statement in the summary statement is misleading.

The lawsuits don't challenge the amendment on the merits, because it's not really possible to legally fight against a public vote that's already been passed by the legislature.

However, if Missourians do pass this amendment, all gun laws -- including proposed laws, like the one that would eliminate cities' ability to ban open carry -- would become "unalienable" rights protected by the court's powerful measure of strict scrutiny. If an open-carry law passes, Newman says, we're basically stuck with it.

"If this amendment becomes law," he cautions, "the state of Missouri would have a wide-open field for gun laws, probably unsurpassed by any other state in the union."

Follow Danny Wicentowski on Twitter at @D_Towski. E-mail the author at Danny.Wicentowski@RiverfrontTimes.com



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13 comments
markie19
markie19


11 days ago

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DeleteShareLikeReplymarkie19Jul 20, 2014

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markie1918 hours ago


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Christopher
Christopher

The author of this article needs a lesson in civics and Constitutional law. The 2nd Amendment was designed to ensure an armed citizenry for multiple reasons: 1) prevent a government that might devolve at some point in the future from dissarming and oppressing the public. 2) defense against foreign and domestic enemies and 3) personal / home defense. All of those reasons are completely legitimate and do not change over time just because those 3 threats might seem small right now.

In addition, while I am no longer shocked by the level of bias and intellectual dishonesty displayed by so many people like the author these days, I am, nonetheless, disheartened by it. The author is clearly trying to mislead the readers.

Strict Scrutiny is an appropriate standard of review for any law that affects "fundamental" rights. If the right to bear arms is "fundamental", then any level of scrutiny lower or less than strict scrutiny would place that fundamental right in jeopordy and allow it to be widdled away bit-by-bit over time. We have already seen so many examples of this happening already in our Nation's very brief history with regard to due process, speech, movement, liberty and assembly. And the exact same deterioration of rights will occur with regard to the 2nd Amendment if we fail to guard our rights vigorously.

Responsibly Armed
Responsibly Armed

I'm for it. Get out on August 5th to vote which ever way you decide is right for you and your family. Furthermore, this bill/resolution does grant a new right. It repeals the current Article 1, Sec 23, and replaces it with new wording. You cannot just change the words of constitutional amendments, but you can repeal and replace.

Ron Leible
Ron Leible

The right of the people to keep and bear muskets...

billj598
billj598 topcommenter

Dear Danny, In the future, before placing a photo with caption in one of your articles, please do a little research. The Percussion Cap, Muzzle Loading rifles you claim were "cutting edge" in the 1870's had been turned into relics by the lever action, repeating, cartridge-firing Henry rifle at least 10 years earlier.  That's the weapon that gave a select few of the Union soldiery such a firepower advantage over the Confederates in the UnCivil War.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_rifle 

Then there were the more famous Winchester 73's and 76's.  The massed plains Indian tribes that wiped out Custer in 1876 even had lever action repeaters.

Nakia Simpson
Nakia Simpson

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Blake Harris
Blake Harris

Because Article 1 section 23 of Missouri's constitution specifically says "but this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons." When the 2nd amendment doesn't care how you carry your weapon, its just says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Bear means carry, doesn't say open or concealed. Activist judge's and politicians have a funny definition of infringe.. Since criminals are going to carry anyway this would protect law abiding people. It would still be illegal for felons to own or carry guns and that will continue to be the least serious of the crimes they commit.

Meredith Hoog
Meredith Hoog

If it is constitutional carry (which by the meaning of the word would mean that it is protected by the constitution as already written), why does it need a public vote and addition as an amendment to the constitution?

Blake Harris
Blake Harris

Sounds like constitutional carry, I'm all for it.

Christopher
Christopher

@chizdippler 

This is the most thoughtful and insightful comment I have ever read.  If only more Americans were so enlightened.  All of our problems would be solved.

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