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St. Louis police chief, others sue to make Missourians' gun rights 'alieanable'

These two know to apply the strictest of scrutiny to any laws that would burdern their right to keep and bear arms
Photo © Oleg Volk. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

On August 5, Missourians will vote on whether or not to amend the state's constitution to declare the right to keep and bear arms "unalienable" (you know--kinda like a right that shall not be infringed), and making any law burdening that right subject to "strict scrutiny," meaning the law must serve a compelling state interest, must be narrowly tailored in the service of that interest, and must do so by the least restrictive means of serving that interest (you know--kinda like a right that the Supreme Court has ruled to be "fundamental," as they did in the McDonald v. Chicago decision). This vote will come as a result of Missouri Senate Joint Resolution 36, which passed this spring. This is how the ballot words the question to be voted upon:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to include a declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is a unalienable right and that the state government is obligated to uphold that right?

State and local governmental entities should have no direct costs or savings from this proposal. However, the proposal’s passage will likely lead to increased litigation and criminal justice related costs. The total potential costs are unknown, but could be significant.

Not surprisingly, forcible citizen disarmament advocates are unhappy that the people of Missouri will have the opportunity to assert their fundamental human right to keep and bear arms so strongly, and hope to derail the measure any way they can find. The best they have managed to come up with so far is the claim that the language on the ballot does not accurately describe the full extent of the proposed amendment's affect on Missouri's gun laws, and will thus mislead voters.

So the usual suspects have filed suit in an attempt to block the measure on those grounds. There are two separate lawsuits, one filed by St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Sam Dotson (with whom we have had more than sufficient experience to be utterly unsurprised at his hostility toward the idea of a strongly protected right to keep and bear arms), and Demanding Mom Rebecca Morgan, and another by Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce. With absentee voting to begin tomorrow, the "shall be infringed" cheerleaders hoped for an injunction stopping the ballots from going out at all. From the New American:

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and Rebecca Morgan, a member of the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, have filed suit asking a judge to prevent Missouri election officials from sending out absentee ballots that include a constitutional amendment protecting the right to keep and bear arms in the Show Me State.

Although Circuit Court Judge Jon Beetem denied the pair’s request for a temporary restraining order on the distribution of the ballots, he did say he would consider ordering a rewrite of the summary of the proposed amendment.

According to the Associated Press, Judge Beetem may not be doing gun rights advocates any favors in his handling of the lawsuit:

Beetem rejected Hatfield's request to block election officials from giving voters ballots containing the disputed wording while he considers the merits of the case. The judge gave no specific date for when he will rule on the request to rewrite the summary. But Beetem said some absentee votes may not be counted, if he decides to rewrite the ballot summary after some people already have voted.

So Beetem is apparently considering granting himself unilateral power to rob Missourians of their perfectly legally cast votes.

The problem, according to Dotson and the others, is that the ballot does not mention that the amendment would require all gun laws to endure strict scrutiny of their Constitutionality, as if shall not be infringed doesn't make that clear (and, evidently, nor does Section 23 of the Missouri constitution, with its "shall not be questioned") . From the Riverfront Times:

"It doesn't point out to voters the seriousness of this amendment and how it's going to elevate gun laws to a status that is almost beyond any right we have as citizens," says [Joyce's attorney Burt] Newman [if that name sounds familiar, there's a good reason for it]. He expects most voters would look at the ballot's question and assume it simply reaffirmed Missouri's present laws.

Hmm . . . "almost beyond any right we have as citizens"? Actually, many laws burdening the rights outlined in the Bill of Rights are subject to strict scrutiny, as are laws that burden fundamental rights protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Both of those apply to the right to keep and bear arms.

Oddly, Dotson's lawsuit also takes a position almost directly opposite the claim that this amendment represents an enormous expansion of Missouri's recognition gun rights:

The right to keep and bear arms is a long-established right in the Missouri Constitution's Bill of Rights, and the summary statement will mislead voters to believe that there is no current right to keep and bear arms in the Missouri Constitution...Government is already required to follow the Missouri Constitution - the proposed amendment changes nothing in that regard. The inclusion of that statement in the summary statement is misleading.

So the amendment will dramatically change how gun rights are handled in the Missouri constitution, and will also not really change anything. Let's take a wild guess here: did Dotson go to the Inspector Clouseau school of law enforcement?

The right to keep and bear arms is fundamental, under the constitutions of both Missouri and the United States, and laws that restrict it must be required to withstand the very strictest of scrutiny. When Chief Dotson and the rest claim that voters lack the wit to realize that "unalienable" implies just that, they inexcusably insult Missourians' intellect. And if Judge Beetem decides to invalidate votes cast by voters to whom the state did not first spoon-feed a state-written "SJR 36 for Dummies" explanation of the amendment, he will have committed an unforgivable atrocity against those voters, and indeed against the entire state.


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