Letter to the Editor

Gun bill veto override could result in criminal charges for journalists

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Journalists could face prosecution for printing Gov. Jay Nixon's name as a firearms owner if lawmakers override the veto of a bill nullifying federal gun control laws.

The bill makes the enforcement of firearms laws subject to prosecution, allows designated teachers to carry guns in school, and makes it illegal to publish the name or identifying information of a gun owner -- online or in print.

On Sept. 4 an attorney for the Missouri Press Association, Jean Maneke, sent a warning out to members telling them to prepare for what could happen if legislators override the governor's veto.

"We don't know what is going to happen in terms of prosecuting offenders of this new law. If you are a gun owner, and you write a story that carries your byline, will you be prosecuted? If you publish a story about a member of your community who owns a gun, will you be prosecuted?" Maneke wrote.

In the July 5, 2013, news release announcing his veto of the bill, Nixon acknowledged being "a gun owner." Maneke said writing his name could get journalists in trouble if lawmakers override the veto.

"It wouldn't matter whether it's the governor, or your local sheriff, or a criminal, any of those people," Maneke said.

In Nixon's veto message he wrote the bill violated the constitution including the freedom of speech.

Bill sponsor Rep. Doug Funderburk, R-St. Peters, said he does not believe the bill violates free speech. Though he did not author the provision prohibiting the publishing of gun owners' names, he said he wholeheartedly supports it.

"When it is passed into law, this type of information that is not public information, can be much more secure and Missourians can be much more confident that it is," Funderburk said.

He said he believes it was put on the bill after the publication of gun owners' addresses following the deadly Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Connecticut. He also cited the Missouri Highway Patrol's sharing of the names of concealed weapons permit holders with a federal agent.

In a written statement, House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said the bill "seeks to affirm our rights as a state by pushing back against a federal government that has far exceeded the authority it was intended to have by our founding fathers."

Maneke said she believes many lawsuits will be filed if the lawmakers successfully overturn Nixon's veto. Lawmakers convene Sept. 11, and an override will require 109 votes in the House and 23 in the Senate.