JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. - Missouri lawmakers have failed to override a veto of a bill nullifying some federal gun control laws, after falling a single vote short in the Senate.
Senators voted 22-12 for the veto override Wednesday night, just shy of the required two-thirds majority. The override attempt had passed the House 109-49.
The legislation declared that any federal policies that "infringe on the people's right to keep and bear arms" shall be invalid in Missouri. It would allow state misdemeanor charges to be brought against federal authorities who attempt to enforce those laws or against anyone who publishes the identity of a gun owner.
Gov. Jay Nixon said the bill could violate the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free speech and its supremacy clause that gives precedence to federal laws over conflicting state ones.
The measure was an attempt to "push back the tyranny of an out of control and incompetent federal government," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Doug Funderburk, a Republican from suburban St. Louis.
The gun bill was one of the highest profile measures among Gov. Jay Nixon's 33 vetoes. Legislators already had overridden four vetoes Wednesday, the greatest single-year total in Missouri since 1833 when a different constitution only required a simple majority.
Lawmakers failed, however, to override Nixon's veto of a sweeping income tax cut, giving him a victory on one of the most hard-fought measures.
Nixon vetoed the gun bill in July while warning that it infringed on First Amendment free-speech rights and also violated the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which gives precedence to federal laws over conflicting state ones. He stuck by those assertions Wednesday.
"It's unconstitutional, it's unsafe and it's unnecessary," Nixon said at a news conference after the House override vote.
Attorney General Chris Koster, a Democrat, also raised concerns last week about the ramifications of a potential veto override. He said a court likely would strike down the nullification provision but could leave intact other sections of the bill that could potentially prevent local police from cooperating with federal authorities on crimes involving guns. He said the bill also could open Missouri police to potential lawsuits from criminals if they refer gun-related cases to federal authorities.
Sen. Brian Nieves, a Republican from Washington, Mo., accused Koster of lying about the bill in a last-moment smear campaign that he said "literally scares the bejesus out of our great law enforcement community."
The Missouri legislation was one of the boldest examples yet of what has become a nationwide movement among states to nullify federal laws with which local officials disagree. A recent analysis by The Associated Press found that about four-fifths of the states now have enacted laws that directly reject or conflict with federal laws on marijuana use, gun control, health insurance requirements and identification standards for driver's licenses.
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence said Wednesday that it will immediately file a federal lawsuit against the Missouri measure if the veto override succeeds.
"This outrageous law would allow criminals to buy machine guns and make federal law enforcement officers into criminals for trying to stop gun crimes," Jonathan Lowy, director of the Brady Center's legal action project, said in a written statement.
A couple hundred gun-rights advocates rallied Wednesday on the Missouri Capitol lawn in a last-moment lobbying push for the bill.
"We need to take control from the federal government and their overreach of taking away our rights," said Gene Dultz, 60, of St. Louis, who was wearing a National Rifle Association hat and shirt while standing in the crowd.
The National Rifle Association has maintained a conspicuous public silence about the bill, declining to answer repeated questions from the media about whether it supports or opposes the measure.
Funderburk said he is concerned about the bill's prospects in the Senate. Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said he was switching from a "yes" to a "no" because of unease about the constitutionality of the legislation.
"Because of fear that was mongered in the last hour, there are some people who are getting serious concerns," Funderburk told rally participants while encouraging them to relentlessly lobby lawmakers.
One of the specific federal laws that the Missouri nullification bill cites is the Gun Control Act of 1934, which imposed a tax on transferring machine guns or silencers. The bill also would invalidate any federal law requiring fees, tracking or registration of firearms or ammunition that "could have a chilling effect on the purchase or ownership of those items by law-abiding citizens."
If the veto override succeeded, the Missouri Press Association also had said it would file a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the provisions barring the publication of the name, address or other identifying information of any person who owns a firearm.
Other parts of the bill would have lowered Missouri's concealed-gun permit age to 19 instead of 21 and allowed specially trained teachers or administrators to serve as a "school protection officer" able to carry a concealed gun.