JEFFERSON CITY - After Missouri voters rejected a referendum on carrying concealed weapons almost three years ago, the issue is back -- and this time it is being pushed so that it will not go back to the people.
Carrying weapons including firearms is already legal in Missouri, but not if they are concealed.
"We know that the criminals will possess a weapon and we'd like to protect the citizens of the state of Missouri," Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, one of the bill's sponsors, told a Senate Judiciary Committee in a hearing Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Bob Holden said he will veto any conceal/carry legislation that reaches his desk because "it is not among his priorities."
Proposition B, which failed at the polls in April 1999 by just four percentage points, would have allowed Missourians to carry concealed weapons, and showed a major schism between urban and rural voters. The measure was defeated overwhelmingly in just a handful of counties, including the major population centers of St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia. In almost every other part of the state, the initiative was supported.
Cauthorn said the current plan was very similar to Proposition B, differing only in technical language.
The bill would require persons to be at least 21 years old, a citizen of the United States and have lived in Missouri for at least six months. It would also ban convicts and those who have pleaded guilty to a violent crime or a crime involving a firearm. The bill would also bar persons convicted of driving while intoxicated or possession of illegal drugs for five years before applying for a permit.
The bill would require applicants to have completed a course in firearm safety training, including eight hours of classroom instruction on handgun safety.
It would also require a background check and a waiting period. Once a person passed the other requirements, he or she would have to pay a $50 registration fee and $10 for annual renewal. The entire application process would be handled by the local county sheriff. Money raised through fees would go to the sheriff's revolving fund in the county in which the permit was obtained.
Cauthorn said his bill would allow Missourians 21 and older to carry a weapon under the seat of their car or in a car's glove compartment. But you cannot carry a weapon in public places like stadiums, hospitals, jails, courthouses and airports. Other public places like schools, bars, restaurants, casinos, churches and child care centers would have to provide the consent of their owner or manager before allowing a concealed weapon into the establishment.
The bill also requires that anyone can ban concealed weapons from entering his or her private property by posting a sign to that effect.
"No matter what's going on in our state, the criminals will have guns," Cauthorn said. Allowing law-abiding citizens to carry guns would be a deterrent to crime, he said.
The committee heard testimony from Marc Anderson, who said other states have not seen violent crime rates rise after enacting similar legislation. Since other states have enacted their conceal/carry laws, not one state has repealed or tightened its law, he said.
"What is it about Missouri that our government doesn't trust us?" he asked. "The state puts me in a position every day where I have to make a decision based on `Do I exercise my God-given responsibility to protect my wife and my kids, or do I risk being charged with a felony?'"
But some Missourians were not so excited about the proposed legislation.
Todd Elkins, a minister from St. Joseph, told the committee he thinks the wishes of the people have already been heard.
"I trust the people of Missouri," he said. "That's why I think the wishes of the people in Proposition B need to be respected."
Elkins also said he was concerned about how the law would affect vigilantes in Missouri.
"Does conceal/carry foster the type of community we want in the state?" Elkins said. "I don't think it does. It says individuals can take matters into their own hands. I don't believe an armed society is a polite society."
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