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Missouri law enforcement officers could be permanently disbarred and face fines if they "infringe" on residents' Second Amendment rights, under a bill debated by a state Senate committee on Tuesday. 

Republican state Sen. Eric Burlison's legislation would create a "Second Amendment Preservation Act," which prohibits any state or local officer from enforcing federal firearms laws "declared invalid by the act."

Some of those laws deemed invalid would include imposing certain taxes on firearms, requiring gun owners to register their weapons and laws prohibiting "law-abiding" residents from possessing or transferring their guns. 

Officers who attempt to enforce the federal firearms laws could be "permanently ineligible" from serving in Missouri and on the hook for potential court costs and fines, according to the bill.

 "Qualified immunity shall not be available to the defendant as a defense," the bill states. 

Burlison, who represents Christian and Greene counties, claims the incoming administration of Democratic President Joe Biden has plans for gun control that include "attacks on private gun manufacturers" and restrictions on who can buy firearms.

"Nothing disturbs me more than the precipice that we're standing today with a new administration that feels it's their responsibility to erode our Second Amendment rights," Burlison said during a Senate committee hearing on his bill Tuesday afternoon.

Burlison noted a similar and "more aggressive" bill was passed the Missouri House and Senate in 2013 but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Jay Nixon. 

"When it was brought back to the General Assembly, it missed by one vote," he said of overriding the veto. 

Democratic Sen. Brian Williams, D-St. Louis County, wasn't there for Tuesday's hearing, but was present when Burlison introduced this same bill during a committee hearing last year. 

Law enforcement agencies opposed the bill, Williams said, for good reason.

"What this bill would do is lead to more gun violence, more death," he said, "and it'll put police officers in even more dangerous situations every single day." 

The Missouri Legislature cannot nullify federal law, he added. 

"Much of this bill is a political stunt to incite a political base, just like on January 6," Williams said. "We saw in Washington, when political stunts go too far, folks get hurt and they create very dangerous environments." 

About 10 people spoke in favor of the bill in person and echoed Burlison's fears of the incoming administration. 

One man, who said he lives in a rural area, testified in favor because he has been increasingly worried about recent bear attacks.  

"I worry for the safety of my son," he said. "I live out in the country because I don't like living in a city."

A farmer said carrying a gun out of a store is just like carrying out groceries that he bought.

"I am a person that believes in property rights," he said. "Our government can't come in and take our property."

No one spoke in opposition, but the committee chair said he had received a "tremendous number of written witness forms," which were not read during the hearing. 

Cathy Gilbert, a Ballwin resident who said she's concerned about rising gun violence in St. Louis, sent emails to every member of the Senate General Laws committee. She didn't attend the hearing to testify against the bill because she feared the recent COVID outbreaks in the state Capitol.

"It's a dangerous bill," she said. "It would create a great deal of confusion whether law enforcement could or couldn't enforce a particular law." 

David Parrish of the Missouri Sheriff's Association expressed these concerns as well. The association is supportive of protecting people's rights to bear arms, he said, but they also have an obligation to victims of crimes. 

"The question then becomes what do we do with those who do not obey the law?" Parrish said. "And what tools should we use as your law enforcement to bring those people to justice and to bring justice for our victims?"

Parrish said they want to be able to "use every tool in the toolbox" to take care of violent criminals. And the association was worried about how it would impact their collaboration with federal agents to address murders and drug trafficking.

Burlison said the bill doesn't stop federal agents from aiding local law enforcement. It also doesn't prevent the federal government from enforcing federal government laws in Missouri, he said. It just prevents state and local law enforcement agencies from enforcing those federal laws. 

"Federal agents can and may, and probably will, continue to enforce federal gun laws," Burlison said. "We're not able to stop them from doing so. But we will not be funding the enforcement of their unconstitutional laws."

The Missouri Independent is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization covering state government and its impact on Missourians.

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