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The Show-Me State Shows the Way to Safeguard Fundamental Rights

Friday, August 8, 2014

Missouri’s primary election on Tuesday included a legislatively referred constitutional amendment to strengthen Missouri’s right to arms provision.  Voters approved the amendment by a 61% to 39% margin.  The amendment makes the following changes to the previous language (additions are underlined and deletions are struck-through):   

That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms, ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms, in defense of his home, person, family and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questioned; but this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weaponsThe rights guaranteed by this section shall be unalienable. Any restriction on these rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny and the state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and shall under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement.  Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the general assembly from enacting general laws which limit the rights of convicted violent felons or those duly adjudged mentally infirm by a court of competent jurisdiction.

The passage of the amendment makes Missouri the second state to explicitly require strict scrutiny as the standard of review in all cases involving the right to keep and bear arms.  In 2012, Louisiana became the first state to do so when voters approved a referred constitutional amendment.  Strict scrutiny is the most stringent standard of review used by U.S. courts when a law burdens constitutionally protected conduct.  For a challenged law to survive strict scrutiny, the government must show: (1) the law is justified by a compelling governmental interest, (2) the law is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, and (3) the law is the least restrictive means of achieving that interest. 

The importance of requiring strict scrutiny in cases that burden the right to arms is exemplified by current gun rights litigation in lower federal courts.  The United States Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller did not clearly specify a standard of review for lower courts to use in Second Amendment cases.  This has led many lower courts to employ a weak “balancing” test, often referred to as “intermediate scrutiny,” when evaluating Second Amendment claims.  Under this lower standard, a number of gun control laws that burden ordinary, law-abiding citizens have been upheld by lower courts.  By requiring strict scrutiny in their constitutional provision, the people of Missouri have ensured that Missouri courts will give gun-control measures the most intensive review available and require the state to meet the highest possible threshold in justifying firearm regulation.

Also notable of the Missouri amendment is the inclusion of firearm “accessories” within the scope of the amendment.  This provides clear guidance for courts when evaluating certain gun-control measures, such as bans on standard capacity magazines.  The Missouri amendment emphasizes the intent of the people to protect all of the necessary parts of a modern, functional firearm. 

While 44 states have at least some state-specific protection for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, six remain without recognition of this foundational principle. These include California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York.  In 2012, a bill was introduced in Iowa to create an amendment that included a requirement for strict scrutiny.  The failure of the Iowa bill to progress out of committee shows that many state lawmakers still do not understand the importance of strong protection for the right to arms, even in states with a well-established gun culture. Once again, it’s up to gun owners to educate their representatives on this important issue.

As we have warned repeatedly, the landmark Supreme Court cases recognizing the fundamental, individual rights protected by the Second Amendment currently survive by a thin, one-vote margin. This truth is not lost on gun control activists, who are already setting the stage for what they hope to be the reversal of these decisions.  Their view of the Constitution as a “living document” allows it to mean whatever they want it to mean and to change with what they consider to be the mood of the present day. Strong constitutional protections at the state level serve as a backstop against possible erosions of the federal right and ensure changes in state-level politics or demographics do not threaten inalienable liberties.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.