JEFFERSON CITY - A House committee is scheduled to vote on a concealed weapons bill later today (Thursday), one day after local gun groups packed a hearing room to overflowing to urge lawmakers to make a change to the bill -- a change that would guarantee Gov. Mel Carnahan's veto.
At issue is whether measures allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons should be put on a ballot before the state. Local gun groups are opposed to such a referendum, preferring to pass laws through the legislature. Carnahan, however, has promised to veto any bill without a referendum provision.
"The governor has some significant concerns about concealed weapons," said Chris Sifford, Carnahan's spokesman. "But if there's tremendous and widespread support for this issue, it should be put to a vote of the people."
Many bills heard this late die because the legislative sessions ends. But House Speaker Steve Gaw, D-Moberly, is a co-sponsor of the measure, a fact that marks this bill as a high legislative priority.
Gun groups would rather have the current version of the bill die in committee than allow a referendum on the issue. They contend that their opposition to the referendum is fueled by two factors: money and principle.
A referendum would cost gun supporters $5 million, according to Tim Oliver a lobbyist for gun rights group Missouri Legislative Issues Council, or MOLIC. Oliver said that gun control groups want to drain away the gun lobby's resources by forcing them to pay for a referendum.
Others witnesses who spoke against the referendum provision argued that carrying a concealed weapon is a Second Amendment right and that such fundamental rights are not subject to popular opinion.
Steve McGhee, president of Missouri Sport Shooters Association, urged committee members to remove the referendum provision and force Carnahan to grapple with the bill.
"I would strongly appreciate it if the governor and the legislature would do the right thing instead of passing the buck," McGhee said.
McGhee's sentiment echoed through the hearing room through murmurs of approval and placards that proclaimed opposition to the referendum.
Committee members, the majority of whom received "A" ratings from MOLIC on their gun positions, argued that though they might agree with the principle against the referendum, practical considerations win out. They said sending such a bill to Carnahan ensures that Missouri will not enact a concealed weapons law in the foreseeable future.
"We want a law in the state of Missouri. This is the only way we're going to get it," said Rep. Kelly Parker, D-Salem, of the referendum.
Bill sponsor and committee chair, Rep. Wayne Crump, D-Potosi, said that despite opposition toward the referendum, he believed that his constituents would prefer a referendum to no law at all. Missouri is one of seven states that currently do not allow citizens to carry concealed weapons.