The Missouri Supreme Court listened to testimony in Marcus Merritt’s case, which argued that nonviolent felons should have the right to own guns. Merritt was convicted of a felony in the 1980s for dealing drugs. Merritt argues that amendment five changes the gun laws in Missouri so that he should be able to own a firearm. Amendment five, according to STL Today, was supported by 60 percent of all voters in Missouri.
Amendment five declared the right to bear and keep arms an “unalienable” right. It also repealed verbiage that stated that the right to bear arms did not cover carrying concealed weapons. The part that Merritt is addressing, though, is the wording that says that lawmakers can still pass legislation that would limit the gun rights of people with mental illness and of convicted violent felons.
Merritt is a convicted felon, but not a convicted violent felon. His lawyer in the gun rights case, Matthew Huckeby, made the case before the Supreme Court on Tuesday that the verbiage invalidated an earlier law that prevented all convicted felons from having guns.
Supreme Court judges questioned Merritt’s interpretation, according to the Kansas City Star, which stated that the “judges repeatedly pressed Huckeby to try to explain why the new constitutional amendment should be broadly applied to invalidate firearm bans for nonviolent felonies” considering that the wording also did not explicitly prevent laws forbidding nonviolent felons from owning guns.
Huckeby argued that the wording of the amendment was not an oversight, and expressed that Missouri does not have a “compelling interest in banning all convicted felons under all circumstances from possessing firearms for life.”
CBS in St. Louis explained the specifics of the new gun rights amendment which was passed in August.
“It states that any restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms ‘shall be subject to strict scrutiny,’ but also says the measure should not be construed to prevent laws limiting the gun rights of ‘convicted violent felons.'”
Merritt’s own situation is particularly of interest to gun control advocates because in 2013, he was charged with drug possession in a separate incident after his earlier 1986 felony conviction of drug distribution. After his arrest last year, he was also charged with three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm; however, those charges were dismissed later by a circuit court.
James Layton is the attorney representing the State of Missouri. Layton argued that despite the new wording, Merritt’s charges for gun possession occurred at a time before the amendment passed anyway.
“When you change the constitution, you can’t say this was a crime then but you can get out of it now,” Layton argued.
Merritt’s lawyer told the Missouri Supreme Court that the amendment allegedly supporting gun rights for nonviolent felons does apply to his client, because his case was being appealed when the law changed.
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