Gun lobby has reigned too long in state capitals
The Kansas City Star
Missouri legislators didn’t even wait for the announcement.
Certain that President Barack Obama planned to roll back their God-granted liberties, elected leaders this week filed pre-emptive legislation that would make it a crime to enforce enhanced federal gun safety measures in Missouri.
And about the time the president was announcing common-sense steps that polls show are supported by most Americans, GOP lawmakers took to the Senate floor to announce they might have to consider drastic acts of resistance, maybe even nullification, to block them.
Nullification — defiance of federal law by a state government — is getting to be old hat in Missouri. The House last year passed a bill declaring the Affordable Care Act to be null and void in the Show-Me State, and threatening jail time for anybody who attempted to enact parts of it.
It’s an exercise in hot air. The U.S. Constitution gives federal law supremacy over state law.
But what’s going on in Jefferson City speaks to the difficulty ahead. The gun lobby has sunk its tentacles deeply into state legislatures, and it won’t remove them easily.
For awhile, the fight was about concealed carry. The National Rifle Association set up shop in state capitals, giving out money and report cards to legislators. One by one the legislatures made it legal to carry a handgun in public.
Of all the states, only Illinois still prohibits concealed handguns, and a court ruling is expected to change that soon.
But the NRA is a hungry beast. Concealed carry was only the beginning.
Gun activists pushed for easier permit processing and access to carry in public buildings. They wanted to make guns legal on college campuses, in churches and in private businesses. They demanded “stand your ground” laws, which basically give people a free pass to use deadly force and if they contend they were responding to a perceived threat.
Some states are quicker to adopt such measures than others. But in places like Missouri and Kansas, you can count on legislators investing a portion of each session on NRA-backed causes.
Some lawmakers are true believers. They view the federal government as the enemy.
Others want to appease constituents who passionately believe their liberties are at risk. Legislators right now are hearing from panicked potential voters who are convinced the federal government is coming for their pistols and deer rifles.
Still other lawmakers just want to stay in the good graces of the NRA, which routinely passes out campaign donations in amounts up to $1,000. That’s not a huge sum in Missouri’s wide-open campaign finance frontier, but any NRA contribution is valued as a stamp of approval. The flip side, NRA disapproval, is most costly.
The reactions by Obama and much of the public to the December massacre of 20 children and seven adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School changed the dynamics. After years on the offensive, gun backers find themselves on defense.
Backed up, they will be ferocious. Pragmatism is not in their arsenal, so they will frame any attempt to limit access to military-style weapons and ammunition, or even to require universal background checks, as an attack on sovereignty and constitutional liberties.
But nothing in the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to own the kinds of weapons and ammunition capable of mowing down people in schools, movie theaters and shopping malls, or to purchase a firearm without a background check.
The pro-gun side has assigned itself the privilege of telling the rest of us what the Second Amendment stands for — basically no holds barred access to firearms, no matter how deadly.
We don’t have to accept that interpretation. It will take awhile, but those of us who believe in common sense gun laws need to change the debate in the statehouses. The right to bear arms doesn’t mean state legislators can infringe on our right to be safe in public places.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @bshelly.