JEFFERSON CITY • A convicted drug felon believes a constitutional amendment approved by voters in August means he can have a gun — but it will be up to the Missouri Supreme Court to decide if he's right.
The court heard Marcus Merritt's case Tuesday morning. Merritt argues that Amendment 5, which 60 percent of voters supported, changes Missouri law to mean he should be allowed to have guns as a non-violent felon.
The amendment declares the right to keep and bear arms “unalienable” and subjects laws restricting gun rights to “strict scrutiny.” Residents have the right to keep ammunition and accessories, as well as the right to defend their families with firearms — a right previously limited to defending home, property and person.
The amendment also repeals wording that states the right to bear arms does not justify carrying concealed weapons. Lawmakers can still pass laws limiting the rights of convicted violent felons and people with mental illnesses.
It's the phrase "convicted violent felons" that Merritt hangs his hat on. Merritt, a convicted drug felon, is not a violent felon and his attorney, Matthew Huckeby, argued Tuesday that the amendment's wording invalidates a law banning all felons from possessing firearms.
Because of the "strict scrutiny" requirement added by the amendment, Huckeby said the state does not have a "compelling interest in banning all convicted felons under all circumstances from possessing firearms for life."
Merritt was charged with drug possession and three counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm in January 2013. He previously was convicted in 1986 for felony drug distribution, which is why he received the gun charges. Six months later, a circuit court dismissed his three firearm counts.
However, State Solicitor General James Layton said the change took effect in September 2014 and should not be applied retrospectively.
"When you change the constitution, you can't say this was a crime then but you can get out of it now," Layton said.
But Huckeby argued the case was under appeal at the time of the change, so it should apply to Merritt's case.
Additionally, Layton said the right to bear arms isn't a new right and the amendment was designed to make sure that right is not chipped away.