- While Missouri's budget problems have
dominated the first month of the legislative session, just
below the surface a showdown of sorts is brewing over
The legislature's gun rights supporters, still fuming
over the voters' rejection of concealed weapons three
years ago, are girding themselves for a major push this
year. Eight bills that would loosen the state's ban on
concealed firearms have been introduced. Four would allow
the general public to carry concealed weapons.
Democratic Rep. Wayne Crump of Potosi, the House
majority leader, said both the House and Senate had enough
votes to pass those bills. Support has grown, he said,
since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
But Gov. Bob Holden said last week that he would veto
any bill that would legalize concealed weapons. Last year,
Holden said he would consider signing concealed-carry
legislation if it did not compromise gun safety or law
In an interview Wednesday, however, the governor said
he saw no need to expand the concealed-carry laws. He
declined to say how he would react to a bill that involved
minor tinkering with the law. But any broad-based
legalization of concealed weapons is unacceptable, he
"I'll veto it," Holden said flatly. "The
people of Missouri have spoken on that issue. If
(lawmakers) want to put it to a public vote again, that's
up to them."
Crump, who led the fight to put a concealed-weapons
proposition on the ballot, said another statewide campaign
is unlikely. The National Rifle Association, which spent
nearly $4 million in a losing effort three years ago,
doesn't want to finance another campaign, Crump said.
That leaves the fight to the General Assembly, where
the issue is mired in regional and partisan politics. But
the issue continues to smolder year after year because
concealed guns remain one of the most emotional and
divisive issues in the state.
Missouri has banned the carrying of concealed weapons
since 1875. But efforts to change the law sprang up in the
early 1990s, soon after the NRA made the carrying of
firearms a national priority.
Gun rights advocates were stymied by then-Gov. Mel
Carnahan, who threatened to veto a concealed-weapons bill.
So supporters decided to bypass the governor by sending
the proposal to a public vote in April 1999.
Supporters argued that carrying guns would reduce
crime, allow women to defend themselves against stronger
attackers and make people feel safer.
Opponents contended the law would lead to bystanders
getting shot and would result in minor disputes escalating
into shootings. More guns would mean more violence on the
streets, they said. [Ed. Without any
empirical data to support that contention. The
experiences of the majority of the other states who trust
their citizens with concealed carry flatly destroy those
The proposition failed by 44,000 votes, 52 percent to
48 percent. Urban voters opposed the bill nearly 2-to-1;
rural voters supported it 3-to-2.
The vote breakdown creates problems for both parties.
Rural Democrats have been stung by their party's support
for controls on guns. Republicans have been quick to
exploit that fact in outstate Missouri.
Many Missouri politicians cite the gun issue as a big
reason Democrat Al Gore lost Missouri in the 2000
presidential election. And gun rights emerged as a key
issue in the January 2001 special election that put
Republican John Cauthorn of Mexico in the Missouri Senate.
Cauthorn's victory gave Republicans control of the
chamber for the first time since 1948.
But the issue also creates problems for Republican
lawmakers from suburban areas. Crump said some Republicans
from St. Louis County who otherwise would support
concealed-weapons legislation saw more than 70 percent of
the voters in their districts oppose it in 1999.
Republicans from those districts would prefer that the
issue just go away, he said.
It won't go away, however, because so many constituents
in rural areas still clamor for it, Crump said.
Crump is one of four lawmakers who have introduced
bills that would allow the public to carry concealed guns.
The four proposals take similar approaches. They would
require sheriffs to issue gun permits to any qualified
person. Applicants would have to be briefly trained in the
handling of firearms and in the law.
The bills would prohibit giving permits to drug
abusers, people convicted of serious crimes and people
found mentally incompetent.
All four bills place limits on where the guns could be
taken. Permit holders would be prohibited from carrying
guns into churches, large sports arenas, courthouses and
governmental meetings without permission from authorities.
Building owners could post notices that concealed weapons
are prohibited inside.
However, permit holders who are members of governmental
bodies, including members of the General Assembly and
local city councils, could carry concealed weapons into
Crump and Rep. Chuck Purgason, a Caulfield Republican,
said many of the restrictions in their bills are designed
to answer criticisms leveled by opponents during
legislative hearings last year and during the 1999
But critics question the need to overturn the will of
the voters. They said that the changes since 1999 are
mostly cosmetic, and that some provisions remain
dangerous, or just goofy.
Sen. Ronnie DePasco, a Kansas City Democrat, said he
would vote against any bill that would legalize concealed
weapons. He said the provision that would allow lawmakers
to carry guns during floor debate was ludicrous.
"Being a politician is one thing," DePasco
said. "But being a politician with a gun is just
House Speaker Jim Kreider, a Nixa Democrat and gun
rights advocate, predicted that some kind of
concealed-weapons bill would pass the House. Current law
puts rural residents who carry guns for protection in a
"A lot of representatives say it's their
constitutional right," Kreider said. "I think it
promotes safety and it reduces crime. And I would like for
law-abiding citizens not to have to break the law."
But Kreider acknowledged that the state's budget
problems relegate concealed weapons to a second-tier
issue. And Holden's promise to veto a concealed-weapons
bill also hurts its chances because few lawmakers like to
challenge the governor.
Crump agreed, saying he doubted that either the House
or the Senate could muster a two-thirds majority to
override a veto. He said he didn't relish the idea of
challenging a governor of his own party. But he said his
loyalty to his constituents came before his duties as
House majority leader.
A veto also carries risks for Holden. The legislature
has overridden a veto only seven times in state history. A
successful override would be an embarrassment to a
governor already beset by a troubled economy and a
As a compromise measure, Crump introduced a second bill
that would allow people to conceal weapons within their
Such a law would allow people to transport guns under a
seat or in their glove compartment. Current law allows
residents of other states who are peacefully driving
through Missouri to hide guns within their vehicles, Crump
said. The state should give Missourians at least the same
right, he said.
Crump said 85 percent of his constituents who want the
right to carry a concealed weapon would be satisfied if
they could keep the gun concealed in the passenger
compartment of their car or truck.