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Senate Approves Letting Missourians Decide Packed Pistols

March 26, 1996
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate passed an amendment allowing Missourians - not the governor - to decide whether they can carry concealed weapons.

After heated debate and a controversial vote, the Missouri Senate voted 19-14 to let Missourians make the call on the polemic concealed weapons. The referendum would be on the Aug. 6 ballot.

The bill's sponsor said he noted news accounts Gov. Mel Carnahan would veto the bill if senators had not voted to approve the referendum amendment.

Sen. Danny Staples, D-Eminence, added he did not want to waste the Senate's time with a bill that would not make it past the governor.

"The people of Missouri should be able to choose whether they want to allow concealed weapons," he said. "We put on the amendment to help pass the bill."

But some senators objected to submitting an issue like this to the voters.

"We do not put fundamental rights to a vote of the people," said Sen. Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau.

But others argued having concealed weapons is not guaranteed by the constitution.

"The right to bear arms does not, does not, include the right to carry concealed weapons," said Democratic Sen. John Schneider.

"Our constitutional fathers recognized that (carrying concealed weapons) was being sneaky," Schneider, of St. Louis County, added.

He said he supports the constitutional right to bear arms just as he supports the constitutional right to own property. But he added that the constitution has provisions against concealed weapons.

Still, Staples said he thought the House would support the referendum amendment.

But Rep. Wayne Crump, D-Potosi, who will handle the bill in the House, said he did not support sending the vote to the people.

"I don't think it's so complex we can't make that decision," he said.

No other states that allow concealed weapons have taken it to the people for a vote. Crump said the legislature could change statutes the following session. "If we're going to vote, let's make a constitutional amendment."

Kinder said he thought concealed weapons should be decided by the legislature because having such a law was racist.

"It's intended to keep African Americans from bearing arms," Kinder said.

Other Senators charged by not allowing concealed weapons, citizens were being made felons simply by keeping small fishing knives in their cars.

"Turning good citizens into felons is wrong," said Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler. "Our good citizens, even innocent citizens, are being charged as felons."

Heated debate in the Senate led to some senators feeling personally attacked.

"I'm a little bit tired and a little bit weary of two senators attacking me, and I won't tolerate it," Staples said.

When the vote was taken on the referendum amendment, the presider changed his vote at the last minute, passing the amendment by one vote. This change caused heated controversy that led Senate Pro Tem Jim Mathewson to take a 45-minute break from the bill.

But Mathewson eventually ruled in favor of the vote saying, "A senator's word is a senator's word."

Still, another vote was taken, and the amendment passed with even greater support.

Staples put off further debate on the bill saying he thought members should have a chance to "cool off."

"Hopefully, I'll take it up tomorrow," he said. "Now with the referendum passed, it should move pretty fast."

Staples warned colleagues the kind of extended debate that has delayed action on bills in the past was not going to be allowed. He said actions must be taken before the end of the week.

That leaves just one and a half days before the Senate convenes for the week at noon on Thrusday.

But the controversy over the vote left some Senators with a bad taste in their mouths, charging, "We're drifting to House tactics," said Sen. John Russell, R-Lebanon.