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Missouri State Representative Mike Leara

pistol laying on the ConstitutionIn the wake of the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the role of guns in American society has become hotly debated, perhaps more than ever before. Gun control advocates believe limiting the types of guns that can be privately owned would be an effective means to prevent, or at least reduce, incidents of gun violence. Proposals for restrictions on gun ownership are currently being considered at the federal, state, and local levels of government. Such proposals have met with strong opposition from those who believe the greatest protection against tragedies like Sandy Hook is gun ownership by law-abiding citizens, unimpeded by government regulation.

One point often overlooked in the gun control debate is that both sides share a common goal—the reduction of gun violence. The debate centers on the best means to achieve that goal. As such, most Americans can agree that even those with opposing views should have the right to participate in the gun control debate. There are some, however, who believe that merely proposing a law that restricts gun rights should be a criminal act. Earlier this year, Missouri State Representative Mike Leara proposed a bill that provides “[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.” Leara has stated that he has “no illusions” about his measure actually becoming law, but he unveiled his plan anyway “as a statement in defense of the Second Amendment rights of all Missourians.”

Unfortunately, Leara's symbolic gesture of support for the Second Amendment is also a symbolic slap in the face of the First Amendment. Protecting political debate on issues such as gun control is at the very core of First Amendment protection. Yet Leara's proposal suggests that the First Amendment should provide no barrier to silencing those legislators who disagree with him on gun control. Leara's bill also disregards 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.”

This Muzzle should not be interpreted as taking a position in the current gun control debate. In fact, this Muzzle is not even about gun control but rather concerns speech on the topic of gun control. Missouri State Representative Leara has the First Amendment right to express his strong opposition to proposed gun control measures. He earns a 2013 Jefferson Muzzle for believing his colleagues in the state legislature should not be entitled to the same.

DMU Timestamp: March 28, 2013 23:38

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