A Missouri constitutional amendment on the right to bear firearms does not allow nonviolent felons to carry guns, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled yesterday. Two 5-2 decisions reversed lower court rulings that had thrown out the convictions of three men based on the 2014 passage of Amendment 5. It declared the right to keep and bear arms “unalienable” and subjected laws restricting gun rights to “strict scrutiny.” Validity of the prohibition on violent felons was never in dispute. The lower court rulings had created fear among prosecutors that they would no longer be able to charge nonviolent felons for having guns.
What became problematic was the wording of the gun rights proposition, passed by 60 percent of voters, which carved out an exclusion for “convicted violent felons.” The law prohibits any felon from having a gun. It does not differentiate between prior violent and nonviolent offenses. For that reason, the lower courts held that it did not survive Amendment 5’s “strict scrutiny” test. “The legislature has the authority to adopt laws, except when expressly prohibited by the constitution, and (Amendment 5) is silent as to the right of nonviolent felons to possess firearms,” the court noted.