Justice Department Files Suit to Prevent Missouri from Restricting Enforcement of Federal Firearms Laws
Missouri House Bill 85 Makes Enforcement of Federal Firearms Laws More Difficult, Thereby Impeding Law Enforcement Efforts to Combat Violent Crime
The Department of Justice has today filed a lawsuit to prevent the State of Missouri from enforcing House Bill 85 (H.B. 85). Signed into law in June 2021, the Missouri law declares five categories of federal firearms laws “invalid” and deters and penalizes their enforcement by federal, state and local law enforcement officers. The government’s complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting enforcement of H.B. 85 and further clarifying that state and local officials may lawfully participate in joint federal task forces, assist in the investigation and enforcement of federal firearm crimes, and fully share information with the federal government without fear of H.B. 85’s penalties. Specifically, the complaint alleges that H.B. 85 is invalid under the Supremacy Clause, is preempted by federal law, and violates the doctrine of intergovernmental immunity.
“This act impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The United States will work to ensure that our state and local law enforcement partners are not penalized for doing their jobs to keep our communities safe.”
“A state cannot simply declare federal laws invalid,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “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 complaint alleges that the restrictions imposed by H.B. 85 have hindered cooperation and other activities that assist federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts. Federal law enforcement agencies within the state report that enforcement of federal firearms laws in Missouri has grown more difficult since H.B. 85 became effective. The penalties associated with H.B. 85 have prompted state and local agencies and individuals within those entities to withdraw support for federal law enforcement efforts, including by not sharing critical data used to solve violent crimes and withdrawing from joint federal task forces. The complaint challenges the constitutionality of the law and seeks to enforce the supremacy of federal law. Dozens of state and local officers have resigned from federal joint-task forces in the state as a result of the law. According to Missouri’s own statistics, nearly 80% of violent crimes are committed with firearms.
According to the complaint, Missouri enacted H.B. 85 despite its conflict with the fundamental constitutional principles of supremacy of federal law, preemption, and intergovernmental immunity. The restrictions imposed by the statute are premised on a declaration that several categories of federal statutes are “invalid,” but a state may not lawfully declare federal law invalid under the Constitution. In addition to penalizing individuals for working on joint federal-state law enforcement task forces, the statute penalizes current federal employees by barring them from state employment if they enforced the purportedly invalid laws. The statute further directs the state judiciary to “protect” against the federal laws declared invalid.