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Missouri sheriffs, police chiefs, latest to oppose bill nullifying federal gun laws

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Missouri Sheriffs’ Association has become the latest law enforcement group to announce its opposition to HB436, also known as the “gun nullification bill,” leading to what some sources say may be a surge in such announcements over the next few days.

In fact, the Missouri Police Chiefs Association followed suit later Friday, saying that if Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of the bill is overridden next week, the new law "will call in question Missouri law enforcement’s ability to work in cooperation with their federal counterparts and impede local law enforcement’s ability to enforce existing laws."

The sheriffs' association – particularly influential in rural Missouri -- announced early Friday that the bill “violates the sheriff’s oath of office.”

The vote by the sheriffs' board on Thursday was unanimous, said association executive director Mick Covington. The sheriffs' association is made of all 115 sheriffs around the state.

HB436, which would nullify all federal gun laws and bar their enforcement, was vetoed weeks ago. Until this week, the measure had appeared likely to be overriden when the General Assembly begins its veto session Wednesday.

But since Tuesday, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster – who is running for governor in 2016 – and the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police have come out strongly against the bill. They believe that the bill would threaten public safety, cause legal problems for law enforcement offices and result in the loss of federal money.

The Sheriffs' Association says that several provisions also “would serve to hamstring the sheriffs and their deputies from enforcing or participating in all federal, drug, and violent gang task forces currently operating in the state.”

In addition, the association said, “language in the bill would expose all local law enforcement” to legal liability as authorities try to enforce any state laws regarding firearms violations.

The association said that HB436’s provisions regarding concealed-carry permits also conflicts with those in another bill – SB75 – that Nixon signed into law.

(Update) The Police Chiefs Association offered similar concerns: "Section 5 and 7 of House Bill 436 will prohibit local law enforcement’s ability to engage in multi-jurisdictional task forces with federal law enforcement and would furthermore create a private cause of action against law enforcement officers for serving and protecting the citizens of Missouri for which is their primary mission and purpose."

The police chiefs added, "This position on House Bill 436 is not one that was made on the legal opinion of one." That's a possible reference to Koster, who some bill backers have contended may have had partisan reasons for his stance. (End update)

The two associations' announcements could provide cover for the Democrats who voted in the favor of the bill but generally would prefer to side with Nixon, a fellow Democrat. 

But law enforcement's opposition also causes problems for Republicans -- especially those in the Missouri House who might prefer not to be at odds with House Speaker Tim Jones, a Republican and one of the bill's sponsors.

However, Jones could be in the most difficult political position because he has said he hopes to run for Missouri attorney general -- the state's top law enforcement post -- in 2016.  Backing the veto override of a bill opposed by most Missouri law enforcement groups might not help his cause, especially if any rivals for the post opt to highlight that fact.

An unsuccessful House vote also could pose political problems for Jones because at least one of his likely rivals -- state Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia -- could then avoid a Senate vote, and use Jones' override vote against him. The Senate won't bother to vote if HB436 fails in the House.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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