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Our Opinion: Reject unnecessary amendments on farming, bearing arms

Our Opinion: Reject unnecessary amendments on farming, bearing arms

July 28th, 2014 in News

We support farming and the right to bear arms.

We do not, however, support two proposed constitutional changes - Amendments 1 and 5 on the Aug. 5 ballot - pertaining to those topics.

We believe the amendments are unnecessary, at best, and potentially counterproductive.

Two themes will emerge as we address the five proposed constitutional amendments to be decided in August.

First, we believe a constitution - federal or state - is a framework for government, not a policy manual or regulations handbook. As a blueprint, a constitution should be amended infrequently and only when necessary.

Second, the increasing abundance of constitutional amendments being placed before voters is evidence lawmakers are not doing their jobs. Proposed amendments too often are motivated by politics - to attract decidedly conservative or liberal voters to the polls - or to avoid the criticism that comes with taking a stand on a controversial issue.

Amendment 1 would establish a constitutional right to farm. The ballot title reads: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agriculture production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?"

Historically, Missourians have engaged in farming and ranching since Missouri became a state in 1821.

The impetus for this proposed amendment, after nearly 200 years of farming, is fallout from an animal rights measure commonly known as Proposition B.

Proposition B was a law approved by voters in 2010, and almost immediately overhauled, and diluted, by lawmakers.

The experience of Proposition B - legislative tampering with a voter-approval law - largely is responsible for the popularity of constitutional amendments, which cannot be amended or undone by the Legislature; a subsequent vote of the people is required.

The agricultural industry - fearful of future challenges from animal welfare advocates - is promoting the constitutional protection afford by Amendment 1.

But not all challenges to agricultural practices come from animal welfare groups and, more importantly, not all challenges are pernicious and/or frivolous.

Farmers have a right to farm. But, similarly, Missourians have a constitutionally protected free speech right to raise concerns about environmental issues, the quality and safety of the food supply and, yes, inhumane practices regarding livestock.

Missouri has executive and legislative branches to decide policies, laws and regulations regarding agriculture, as well as a co-equal branch, the judiciary, to rule on the merits of legal challenges.

The system works.

Insulating an entire industry with constitutional protections is superfluous and, potentially, dangerous.

Equally unnecessary is a state constitutional provision, Amendment 5, regarding the right to bear arms. The ballot title reads: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to include a declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is an unalienable right and that state government is obligated to uphold that right?"

The 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads, in part: "... the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

According to the federal supremacy clause, federal law trumps state law when the two conflict, which - in this case - they do not.

The legalese and gobbledygook supporting this proposal are unconvincing. The right to bear arms is well-protected without this duplicative amendment.