The Missouri Press Association Board of Directors, meeting in Kansas City for its annual convention, expressed its concern over certain provisions in House Bill 436 on Thursday, Sept. 5, by officially voting to seek injunctive relief and a court determination on the constitutionality of those provisions if the Governor’s veto of this bill is overturned next week during the Missouri General Assembly’s veto session in Jefferson City.
The bill contains a new Missouri statute, Section 571.011, which states, in part, "No person or entity shall publish the name, address or other identifying information of any individual who owns a firearm…."
The board, in making this decision, said it believes that language is clearly in opposition to the guarantee in Missouri’s Constitution, Article I, Section 8, that states, "That no law shall be passed impairing the freedom of speech, no matter by what means communicated….," in addition to the long history which exists protecting speech in this country under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
"Because of the way this law is worded, any time a name of someone who is a gun owner is published anywhere, online or in print, the publisher could be guilty of a misdemeanor and fined up to $1,000," said Mark Maassen, president of the association. "Local prosecutors, who work hard to protect their communities, are going to prosecute people who had no idea that a person whose name they publish was a gun owner. Some may prosecute, some may not. But it will be a mess."
Maassen speculated that lists of gun owners may need to be created in order to advise members of the public of whose names cannot be published, but pointed out that the publication of that list alone would violate the law. He speculated that election authorities may encounter problems publishing ballots because some elected officials and potential candidates are gun owners.
Maassen said the Missouri Press board members understand that legislators may not have intended such absurd situations, but "the language in the bill is what it is."
"More important than its operational problems, though, is that we believe it is a fundamental violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," Maassen said.
Maassen said that while the legislature certainly could act next year when it reconvenes to revoke this law, in the meantime, prosecutors who are sworn to uphold the law in the state would find themselves overwhelmed by the work this involved. Maassen pointed out that even emergency enactment of a law revising this language would likely take weeks into the 2014 session to complete the mandated procedure required to bring a bill into law.
"To save a lot of hassle, headache and unnecessary litigation, the legislature would be better to not override and start again with better language next year, if it so chooses," Maassen said.