A little more than one year ago more than sixty percent of Missouri voters approved an amendment to Article I, section 23 of the state constitution–but it remains to be seen if this state’s courts will honor the will of the people.
The amendment the people adopted dramatically increased constitutional protections for citizens’ right to keep and bear arms, stating that (1) for the purposes of the Missouri Constitution the right to keep and bear arms includes the possession of firearm ammunition and accessories, (2) the rights protected in the provision are “unalienable,” (3) the state is obligated to uphold these rights, and (4) that the courts must apply “strict scrutiny” against “any restriction on these rights.” Although the earlier version of Article I, Section 23, only specified that the right to use weapons extended to defense of home, person, and property, the 2014 amendment clarified that citizens also have the right to use weapons in defense of their families. The amendment also stripped out of the constitution the prior permission the people had given the government to restrict or ban the wearing of concealed weapons. And, finally, it granted the general assembly limited authority to keep guns out of the hands of “convicted violent felons or those adjudicated by a court to be a danger to self or others as a result of a mental disorder or mental infirmity.”
Prior to the vote on this constitutional amendment, proponents correctly assured voters that adopting this unique provision would give Missouri the strongest constitutional protections in the nation for their rights of self-defense. But a funny thing happened when the courts began evaluating the effect of this amendment–one of the proposal’s chief advocates completely contradicted everything he had told voters about the impact of the new Article I, Section 23, telling the Missouri Supreme Court that the amendment did not actually change the law at all. As a result, in the first three gun-related cases the Missouri Supreme Court has handed down since voters approved the amendment, the court has rejected any obligation to give effect to the language of that amendment.
The Freedom Center of Missouri decided to weigh in on this matter and to set the record straight regarding the new Article I, Section 23. In a brief that we filed in connection with three cases currently pending before the Missouri Supreme Court, we demonstrate that decades of well-established legal principles require that court to honor and enforce the words the people of Missouri have added to their state constitution. Along the way, we highlight the fact that in its recent cases the Missouri Supreme Court has improperly abandoned its previous stance on what it means to subject a law to the harshest form of judicial review, and that this abandonment also counters the decades-long guidance of the U.S. Supreme Court and every single federal circuit court. The brief closes by emphasizing the extraordinarily powerful language the people have chosen to try and protect their rights of self-defense, and suggests that if those words are insufficient to require the courts to protect this right, the Missouri Supreme Court has an obligation to tell the people what words they must use to do so.
You can download and read a copy of the brief below. The Missouri Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in this set of three cases in Jefferson City on the morning of October 27, 2015. If you believe in the importance of standing up for Missourians’ right to keep and bear arms – or, even more importantly, their ability to amend their constitution to limit the government’s power – please make plans to attend, and please make a donation to the Freedom Center’s ongoing work.