A pro-gun Missouri Republican is working to make it illegal for state lawmakers to so much as propose any sort of legislation dealing with firearm safety regulations.
State Rep. Mike Leara introduced the bill Monday. It states, “[a]ny member of the general assembly who proposes a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States, shall be guilty of a class D felony.”
In other words, he doesn’t just want to criminalize gun control—he wants to make it downright illegal to even suggest it in the state legislature. One slight problem for Leara, however, is that it appears the bill would violate the state’s constitution.
The biggest problem with the bill, however, is that it almost certainly violates the Missouri Constitution, which provides that “[s]enators and representatives . . . shall not be questioned for any speech or debate in either house in any other place.” Although there are very few court decisions interpreting this clause in the Missouri Constitution, the United States Constitution contains a parallel clause guaranteeing that federal lawmakers shall not be called to account for “any Speech or Debate in either House” of Congress, and courts commonly interpret parallel provisions of state and the U.S. Constitution to have similar meanings.
In United States v. Johnson the Supreme Court explained that this “Speech or Debate” clause of the Constitution is intended to prevent the “instigation of criminal charges against critical or disfavored legislators by the executive in a judicial forum” by giving them broad immunity to prosecutions for their official actions. Moreover the clause does not simply protect lawmakers engaged in literal speech or debate, but it also ensures that they will remain unmolested for actions “generally done in a session of the House by one of its members in relation to the business before it.” Thus, a lawmaker’s decision to introduce a bill for consideration by the legislature is protected by the Speech and Debate clause, and they cannot be subject to prosecution for this act.