The Missouri Supreme Court has heard the arguments of a convicted drug dealer who says he should be allowed to have guns.
Marcus Merritt was convicted in 1986 of a federal felony for dealing drugs. In 2013 he was charged in Missouri under a 2008 law preventing felons from possessing firearms.
His attorney, Matthew Huckeby, argued to the court that the 2008 law should not apply to him because that would violate a constitutional prohibition on retroactive laws. He also argued that a change to Missouri’s Constitution, Constitutional Amendment 5, approved by voters in August would allow non-violent felons like himself to retain their gun rights, because it specifies that the legislature can still limit the rights of “violent” felons to have guns.
Huckeby told the Court, “The state has no compelling interest in banning all felons, under all circumstances, for life,” from possessing firearms.
Supreme Court Judge Laura Denvir Stith pressed Huckeby on his interpretation of the new constitutional amendment. She says courts in all states have always found the 2nd Amendment and state provisions like it have not blocked legislatures from regulating the rights of felons to have guns.
“You’re asking for a total change in how courts have interpreted that language, historically,” Stith told Huckeby.
The legislative author of that language, Senator Kurt Schaefer (R-Columbia), listened to the arguments before the Supreme Court. He said that amendment does mean that courts will have to define whether felons are considered “violent” or not, and thereby, whether they will be allowed to possess firearms.
“What that’s going to result in at some point is probably courts having look at more of these cases and do some heavy lifting,” said Schaefer.
Schaefer said part of what the amendment does is get away from categories of people who can and can’t have guns.
“When you have felonies that can be perpetuated or exacerbated by the use of a firearm, is there a compelling governmental interest there to limit felons in possession? I think absolutely,” said Schaefer.
Schaefer said his goal with the amendment was to make clear that gun rights are as important as any others enumerated in the Constitution, and to affix in state law two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions about gun rights.
The court could issue a ruling at any time.