Southeast Mo. law enforcement leaders say Second Amendment Preservation Act misses the mark
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (KFVS) - The Second Amendment Preservation Act became law over the weekend, one day after a Cole County judge threw out a legal challenge to it.
Now, a growing number of Heartland law enforcement leaders say this new law’s actually missing the mark, by benefiting the most violent criminals and putting your communities at risk.
Signed by current Republican Governor and former sheriff Mike Parson, the new law prohibits state and local cooperation with federal officials in any actions that violate a Missourian’s right to keep and bear arms.
“Well, very early on I was actually in favor of a large part of this,” said Sikeston Department of Public Safety Chief James McMillen. “Then we got into the details of this and, of course, I was like this is going to be a problem.”
Those details led us to sit down recently with McMillen, Dexter Police Chief Hank Trout, Poplar Bluff Police Chief Danny Whiteley, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney Kacey Proctor, Butler County Sheriff Mark Dobbs, Stoddard County Prosecuting Attorney Russ Oliver and Cape Girardeau Police Chief Wes Blair.
They are all do something even they did not expect, speak out against the Second Amendment Preservation Act.
“When I first read the legislation, I was concerned because it essentially says that we can’t cooperate with the federal government on anything that involves a gun,” Chief Blair said.
One of Blair’s officers showed us an AR-15 and a pistol Cape Girardeau police found on Gene Wren when they arrested him in November 2020.
Wren is now serving eight years in federal prison in a case worked by an officer Blair assigned to the ATF Task Force in 2017.
“And during that time, he was able to get 181 federal indictments on federal gun charges. Most of those would be felons in possession of guns.”
“I think that the average citizen thinks the federal agencies are kind of very far away and distant from us,” said Kacey Proctor. “The reality is I communicate with my counterpart in the federal system probably four or five times a week.”
That’s because federal weapons charges carry longer sentences than state statutes allow. Plus, those convicted serve 85 percent of their federal time.
“We utilize the federal system and federal authorities to take the worst of the worst criminals off the street,” explained Sheriff Dobbs.
“We can put some of these guys, who are going to be repeat offenders, in prison,” Chief Whiteley added. “In federal prison. And have them out of our society for a long period of time.”
“If they have a gun in possession with the drugs, that normally would be a federal offense,” Russ Oliver explained. “We could then refer to the federal authorities. We can’t do that now.”
Losing that ability to work alongside federal authorities to secure those convictions led Proctor to act before SAPA was signed in June.
“I drove to Jeff City. I met with our local legislators to express my concerns. They were very good to work with. They understood my concerns. But in the end, this bill was cloaked in the title of the Second Amendment Preservation Act. And I think that’s a big part of the reason why it passed.”
“There’s not an officer around that I know of that wants to take anyone’s guns away,” said Chief Trout. “It’s just this House bill handcuffs law enforcement.”
“Personally, I think politics really doesn’t belong in public safety. And I hope people can understand the effect this is going to have on our communities.”
But, before SAPA took effect on August 28, the relationship between local and federal agencies changed; and in some cases, dramatically.
Chief Blair showed us a large table full of weapons: pistols, rifles, shotguns. All confiscated during joint investigations involving his department and federal officers.
“So, this is just a sampling of some of the guns we’ve been able to take off the streets by working with our federal partners.”
But in Cape Girardeau, that partnership is on hold.
Chief Wes Blair put out guidance to his officers ahead of the Second Amendment Preservation Act taking effect.
Now, if a federal agency requests anything, it must go all the way up the chain of command.
“And even the criminals now see that our hands are being tied on that and we can’t even work together,” Chief Blair admitted.
A portion of Cape Girardeau’s new requirements says, “these steps may seem overreaching and absurd.”
“They do seem overreaching and absurd,” Chief Blair said.
One of the biggest concerns about SAPA - the exact definition of providing a federal agency “material support.”
“Can they not even meet in our parking lot before they do a search warrant that might involve a gun,” Chief Blair wondered. “Is that providing material support?”
We asked if he has had to make any of those decisions yet.
“We have,” Chief Blair responded. “We’ve been asked to download phones for a federal agency on a case that might have involved guns and we’ve told them no. We’ve been asked to go help serve a search warrant just this week. And we said, ‘I’m sorry. We can’t.’”
In a statement, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol said they’ve suspended their work with ATF, and troopers cannot work on any federal case involving a weapons violation.
“I’m just afraid that violence is going to increase,” Chief McMillen admitted.
And if a Missouri department takes that risk, it will cost them.
“It subjects law enforcement officers to a $50,000 fine, per occurrence, of assisting any federal authority with the prosecution of any weapons charge,” Oliver said of the new law.
And if it happens in your hometown, that’s $50,000 of your taxpayer dollars.
“There’s so many departments, especially in southeast Missouri, that scratch to make ends meet on a daily basis,” Sheriff Dobbs said. “That can’t hire enough officers. That can’t afford enough officers as it is.”
“Well, we’re six people down now,” Chief Whiteley added. “So, we’d be seven or eight people down if something like that happened.”
Chief Blair laid out a scenario that could happen anywhere in southeast Missouri.
“Let’s say that we have a bank robbery. And more times than not, that involves a gun. The FBI’s going to be responding at the same time we are. Does that mean we tell the FBI we can’t go to a bank robbery with them?”
Chief Trout picked up the example.
“It’s my understanding we can’t reach out and contact them,” he said of the FBI.
But the FBI would be there, we asked, they have to by law?
“If they find out about it. Correct. So that’s the gray area of, do you reach out and contact them?”
Could a phone call cost you $50,000 we asked Chief Trout?
“It could,” he responded.
“I’ve already had four local attorneys tell me that they cannot wait for me to refer federal gun...or cases to the feds for prosecution for gun-related offenses,” Proctor said. “Because they cannot wait to sue me.”
But even that concern doesn’t make it any easier for Butler County Prosecuting Attorney Kacey Proctor to express his concerns about SAPA.
“I’m sure some people will think I’m anti-firearm,” Proctor conceded. “And probably some people will accuse me of being pro-Biden or something of that effect. But, in the end, I am a law enforcement official. It is my duty to keep my community safe.”
“Personally, I think politics really doesn’t belong in public safety,” said Chief McMillen. “And I hope people can understand the effect this is going to have on our communities.”
And that’s why all these men sworn to serve and protect want you to help them sound the alarm.
“They need to contact their legislators and tell them they need to untie the hands of local law enforcement,” Oliver said. “So that the worst of the worst violent criminals can be federally prosecuted.”
“They’re going to have to fix this,” Chief Whiteley said. “Or we’re going to have criminals running rampant throughout southeast Missouri.”
Chief Whiteley also updated us on a case in Poplar Bluff that he said really highlights the situation they’re in.
On August 27, they arrested 27-year-old Octavin Brown on assault, stalking and weapons charges. Brown is accused of forcing his way into an apartment with a pistol and assaulting his ex-girlfriend, who had a full protection order against him.
Whiteley said this is the kind of case they would refer for federal prosecution, but if they do now, the department would face that $50,000 fine.
Whiteley and some of the other law enforcement leaders we interviewed said they are in contact with their local legislators to see what can be done to fix the Second Amendment Preservation Act.
KFVS12 reached out to them and we will let you know what happens next.
Copyright 2021 KFVS. All rights reserved.