Missouri gun rights amendment faces legal challenge

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COLUMBIA - Missouri's new constitutional amendment concerning gun rights is facing its first legal challenge from a convicted felon who says the amendment guarantees his right to own a gun.

The Missouri Supreme Court heard Marcus Merrit's case for the second day Wednesday. Merrit argues language in Amendment 5 that says gun-control laws are subject to strict legal scrutiny means Missouri cannot prohibit nonviolent offenders from owning a gun.

The amendment states that the right to bear arms is "unalienable" and laws restricting guns rights are subject to "strict scrutiny." It also articulates that the General Assembly can enact "laws which limit the rights of convicted violent felons..." The amendment does not mention nonviolent felons, so Merrit argued he should maintain his right to possess a gun.

According to MU law professor David Mitchell, Merrit's argument has legal ground.

"If I'm a citizen and the state hasn't given me a compelling state interest, and I'm not a violent felon, then I'm thinking I should be entitled to own a weapon," Mitchell said. "Merrit's argument, I think, is a very valid one."

Local gun shop owner and retired police officer Barry McKenzie said it's unfair to take away a citizens' right to own a gun for a nonviolent felony.

"There are a lot of good people out there who have been involved in a nonviolent crime," McKenzie said. "People who commit nonviolent crimes are often not dangerous and should retain their rights."

Boone County Sheriff's Department Detective Tom O'Sullivan said no felons should be allowed to own guns, no matter what type of felony they committed.

"In society we have rules and laws and regulations," O'Sullivan said. "And if you can't obey the rules, and the laws and the regulations then you forfeit certain rights."