JEFFERSON CITY – State Sen. Will Kraus asked Missouri's top law enforcement official Monday for a legal opinion on pending legislation that seeks to nullify some federal gun control laws.
Kraus, a Lee's Summit Republican, sent a letter to Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster's office asking him to weigh in on the bill's constitutionality. The measure would declare "null and void" past, present and future federal laws deemed to be infringements on gun rights. Federal agents who enforce such laws could be sued or, under one version of the bill, face prosecution.
The House and Senate have both passed the legislation, but lawmakers must agree on an identical version for it to win final approval. Kraus voted in favor of the Senate bill this year.
"Nullification is a rarely used concept. I think an official opinion would be helpful to those of us in the General Assembly who will be voting on these bills," Kraus, from Lee's Summit, said in a written statement.
A spokesman for Koster confirmed the office received the request, but declined further comment. A state law says the attorney general shall, upon request, give his opinion on questions of law relating to the duties of elected officials.
Kraus said he wants to know Koster's opinion because the attorney general would be responsible for defending the law in court. He is asking for Koster to review any bill language addressing federal laws, the treatment of federal officers, the role of state officers in assisting federal law enforcement and any punishments.
Koster raised concerns about a similar nullification measure last year and urged lawmakers not to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the bill. He said it could have jeopardized cooperation between state and federal law enforcement agencies, endangered public safety and allowed criminals to sue police officers.
He also said last year that the previous measure was unlawful and cited a 1958 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Arkansas' Legislature's attempt to nullify federal desegregation laws.
"While state legislatures have occasionally sought to nullify various federal laws through history, the U.S. Supreme Court has shown no patience for these exercises," Koster wrote to lawmakers last September.
Ultimately, Nixon's veto was sustained after two Senate Republican leaders voted against the override in September, citing concerns from law enforcement officials. But there are differences between the 2013 measure and the legislation currently under consideration in the Legislature.
This year's bill is less specific than the previous version about which federal laws it seeks to nullify. It removes references to the 1934 and 1968 gun control acts, while keeping generic references to fees, registration and tracking policies that are considered "infringements" or "have a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership" of guns and ammunition by law-abiding citizens.
The Senate could soon consider a version of the bill that would ban federal agents who enforce nullified laws from future service in any state or local law enforcement agency.