Gun rights amendment challenged in court

The amendment passed Aug. 5 with a vote of 602,863 to 386,308.

Although it passed Aug. 5, Amendment 5 to the Missouri Constitution will be placed under scrutiny again after a court challenge to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Rebecca Morgan and Chief of Police for the St. Louis Department Samuel Dotson III submitted a court challenge Sept. 24 questioning the approval of Amendment 5.

The voters passed the amendment with a vote of 602,863 to 386,308, which makes gun and weapon accessories ownership an unalienable right, declaring that “the state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and shall under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement.”

The ballot language for the measure stated something different, however, from the wording of the amendment. On the ballot, voters were asked, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to include a declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is an unalienable right and that the state government is obligated to uphold that right?”

The Missouri Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over contests of election results. Dotson and Morgan have challenged that the ballot language did not accurately portray the actual implications of the amendment.

Their Petition for Election Contest states “the summary statement (ballot language for the measure) was insufficient and unfair, deceived and misled voters and failed to accurately reflect the legal and probable effects of the amendment, in numerous ways.” The Petition for Election Contest argues the wording might have swayed voters. Since the General Assembly is required to write an impartial and true statement for the ballot measure, according to state law, the measure should not be approved.

Morgan and Dotson had already brought the same suit against the ballot before the election, but the Trial Court of the case concluded it could not hear the case.

Dotson said he decided to submit the petition a second time because he believed voters weren’t adequately aware of all the implications of the new amendment.

“The ballot language was misleading at best and did not accurately portray all that the amendment will allow when enacted,” he said. “This is not an attack on anyone’s Amendment 2 rights, but let’s be clear about it so everyone understands the impact it will have.”

After the first denial, Morgan and Dotson then appealed the judgment and brought their case before the Missouri Supreme Court, which found in agreement with the Trial Court that the Court did not have authority to decide the case six weeks before the election date. The Supreme Court stated, though, that the challenge could be brought back after the election. “Judicial review of a claim that a given ballot title was unfair or insufficient is available in the context of an election contest should the proposal be adopted,” according to the Missouri Supreme Court official documents. Dotson said he also understands and emphasizes the impact Amendment 5 could have on his city and police department.

“For any urban city, gun violence is at epidemic levels,” he said. “As a police chief, I’m going to do anything I can do to help the people of St. Louis. When people understand it, I think they will vote no for it.”

The Missouri Constitution contained a gun rights section before the passage of Amendment 5, but was not as strongly worded to protect gun rights.

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