The Missouri Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in the case of Missouri v. Merritt upholding the state’s felon-in-possession law against a challenge brought under the state’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Last year, residents of the Show Me State approved Amendment 5, which strengthened Missouri’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms, with 61% voting in favor of the measure. Click here and here to see our previous coverage of the amendment and its effects.
The amendment made clear that Missouri citizens have an “unalienable” right to keep and bear arms and that any “restriction on these rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny.” It also states, however, that, “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.”
Merritt was federally convicted in 1986 of felony distribution of PCP. He was then charged in January 2013 with unlawfully possessing a revolver, a shotgun, and a .22 caliber rifle as a convicted felon.
Marcus Merritt was charged with three counts of unlawful possession of a firearm, § 571.070.1(1), among other offenses.
He filed a motion to dismiss the unlawful possession charges, claiming the law violated the Missouri Constitution’s protection of his right to bear arms. The circuit court agreed, sustained Merritt’s motion, and dismissed the gun charges. The State appealed the circuit court’s decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Merritt was originally charged under the law in effect prior to the new amendment taking effect. One of his arguments is that under the new Amendment 5, he was not a “violent felon” and that he should be granted the protection of the new Amendment. The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed and conducted its analysis of the case based upon the constitutionality of laws banning all felons from possessing firearms in effect prior to Amendment 5 which bans violent felons from possession, but still used the “strict scrutiny test” to determine its constitutionality. They found the law did not violate Merritt’s constitutional right to bear arms and remanded the case back to the circuit court that had previously dismissed the charges against him on constitutional grounds. As to his argument that the ban denied him his constitutional right to self-defense, the Court stated that he still had the right to self-defense, just not with a firearm.
What Law Shield was glad to see in the decision was the court’s use of “strict scrutiny,” which means the right to keep and bear arms enjoys the strongest protection afforded constitutional rights under the law. We hope other states adopt similar protections as strong as Missouri’s Amendment 5 requirement of strict scrutiny analysis for all laws affecting or restricting gun rights.
You can read the Supreme Court Opinion here: