St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch does not support stricter federal gun control -- but he's also not a fan of Missouri's controversial proposal to actively block the feds, either. In a move that signals growing and widespread opposition to one of the state's most hotly debated pieces of legislation this year, Fitch today fired off a letter to House Speaker Timothy Jones saying that while he has generally opposed new gun laws, he cannot back House Bill 436, the proposal to make it a crime to enforce certain federal gun laws in the state of Missouri.
This letter, on view below, puts Fitch on the same side as St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Sam Dotson and Mayor Francis Slay, both vocal supporters of stricter gun policies, who are doubling down on criticisms of the GOP's "Second Amendment Preservation Act."
"If you are for this bill, you are for criminals," Maggie Crane, spokeswoman for Slay, tells Daily RFT. "You are tying law enforcement officers' hands. It is a dangerous bill."
Governor Jay Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the legislation in July, arguing that, among a range of concerns, the state cannot constitutionally pass a law that would directly contradict federal ones. The lengthy bill most notably makes it a criminal offense for officials in Missouri to enforce or even attempt to enforce federal laws that infringe on the right to bear arms. Supporters say the state has a right to stand up to unconstitutional gun control efforts. Critics, however, argue that the language of the legislation would actually impede all sorts of existing law enforcement efforts, including crucial federal-local partnerships.
People on both sides agree that the law will almost certainly lead to a court battle.
Next Wednesday, Missouri lawmakers will convene to vote on a potential override of Nixon's veto, and with the help of a few Democrats, the legislature may successfully enact the bill (which has been cast as one of the most extreme states' rights and pro-gun initiatives in the country right now).
Most recently, Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, announced his opposition to the legislation, outlining a range of troubling hypothetical scenarios in which this law would inhibit police.
Fitch's letter says that he supports the "general assembly's desire to protect Missourians' rights under the Second Amendment," noting that he publicly opposed new federal gun restrictions in the wake of the tragic Newtown elementary school shooting. But, he says (emphasis his):
House Bill No. 436, if it becomes law, will hinder local law enforcement's ability to enforce existing laws. The men and women of the St. Louis County Police Department work every day with our federal partners to enforce these laws. Sections 5 and 7 will cause us to disband our local task forces, which have a real impact on violent crime in our community. Additionally, it will subject our police officers to additional civil liability. Our job is difficult enough without the threats of more lawsuits.
In addition to his letter, Dotson, Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté and Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, have co-authored an op-ed in today's Post-Dispatch outlining their concerns with the proposal. The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police is also urging against an override of the veto.
Crane offers Daily RFT some more specifics on how the legislation is a serious concern to Slay and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD).
Citing a recent partnership with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), in which 267 firearms were seized and 159 people were charged in the metro area, Crane says, "If House Bill 436 would have been law, none of those guns and none of those bad guys would be off the streets, because it was a joint investigation."
"Each one of those 159 people, if HB 436 would have been in effect then, would have been able to sue the SLMPD officer involved in the case," she continues. "It's almost like putting a welcome sign on Missouri, saying, 'Hey criminals, come here.'"
Crane argues that this bill isn't about Second Amendment rights and law-abiding gun owners.
"This is about giving us the tools to prosecute with the laws we already have," she says. "Here in the city of St. Louis, it's no secret that gun crimes are a priority. We have too many people carrying too many illegal weapons. We're not talking about the 'responsible, armed citizens.'"
Continue for more of our interview with Maggie Crane and response from House Speaker Tim Jones.
Crane says that crime is down 46 percent in the city since 2006, thanks in part to federal partnerships with ATF, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Even if this was not the intention of the legislation, she says, these are the facts. "This is probably an unintended consequence, but the reality is it's a serious consequence."
A spokesman for Jones, a co-sponsor of the bill, refers Daily RFT to his statement earlier in the week in response to Koster's criticisms:
I am disappointed that our Attorney General has again opted to regurgitate the governor's talking points rather than stand with a bipartisan supermajority in the House and Senate in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all law-abiding Missourians. What he fails to acknowledge in his politically-motivated letter is that the bill, at its core, seeks to affirm our rights as a state by pushing back against a federal government that has far exceeded the authority it was intended to have by our founding fathers. We will be further analyzing and examining the specific legal issues raised by the Attorney General and will respond if additional comment is necessary.
Here is Fitch's letter.
And the full legislation.