Felonies and Misdemeanors

The simple question on the ballot next Tuesday, April 6, is this: "Shall sheriffs, or in the case of St. Louis County, the chief of police, be required to issue permits to carry concealed firearms to citizens who apply if various statutory requirements are satisfied?"

If the voter in the booth deciding whether to vote for Proposition B needs further clarification of "various statutory requirements," he or she is referred to SS HCS HB 1891, which is the Senate Substitute for the House Committee Substitute for House Bill 1891, proposed by the 89th General Assembly (Second Regular Session).

To get a copy of that 10-pager, the voter will have to leave the booth and either (1) get to a computer and try to find it on last year's Missouri House of Representatives Web page (www.house.state.mo.us/bills98/ biltxt98/truly98/HB1891T.HTM) or (2) travel to Jefferson City and try to coax the Capitol librarian into digging it up.

Once the necessary information is in hand, several prerequisites will be required of the voter -- for instance, proficiency in a second language. "Subdivisions (1), (5) [and] (8) and (10) of subsection 1 of this section do not apply when the actor is transporting such weapons in a nonfunctioning state or in an unloaded state when ammunition is not readily accessible or when such weapons are not readily accessible," the bill states, failing to indicate whether Missouri is a nonfunctioning state or an unloaded one.

The voter must also have navigation skills for rough terrain. To find out who can and cannot get a permit for a concealed weapon, for example, the voter must traverse sentences referring to other far-off sections of the 10-pager, which in turn refer to other distant sections of the 10-pager, which in turn refer to statutes that aren't in the 10-pager at all and must be looked up, who but a lawyer knows where.

Last week the Missouri secretary of state's office released a "plain language" explanation of Prop B and concluded that anyone who has pleaded guilty to or been convicted of any felony or of a misdemeanor involving a firearm or explosive weapon may not get a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

That means that if Proposition B passes, under Missouri law a person who is caught with a joint in his or her pocket within 1,000 feet of a university campus cannot get a permit for a concealed gun, but a person caught drunk in a church or courtroom can. Likewise, someone convicted of recklessly burning or exploding a building can get a permit, whereas another person convicted of promoting illegal gambling or lottery cannot.

The bill goes on to state that no one may get a permit who is "publicly known to be habitually intoxicated by alcohol or known to be a controlled substance abuser" and adds that the person may not be "currently mentally incompetent or mentally ill" and must not have, within the past five years, "exhibited violent behavior toward another person, except in self-defense."

The question is, what does "publicly known" mean, and what do words such as "habitually," and "currently" and "exhibited" really say?

"I think that's designed to give the sheriff a little bit of discretion," says

Jim Grebing, spokesman for the secretary of state's office. "As I read it, and some of this is somewhat open to interpretation, I think a sheriff could make the determination -- say, for example, if the person was mentally incompetent. I don't think the person would have to be judged mentally incompetent. I think ultimately it's up to the sheriff. It's really not black-and-white."

Lisa Herder, a lawyer with Herder and Herder in St. Louis and vice chair of the Missouri Bar's legislative committee, agrees that the language of the proposed law is ambiguous, to the point of being "poorly drafted," but adds that there is recourse. "Oftentimes what happens in situations like this is that the Legislature drafts statutes, which, if passed, are later clarified by judicial decisions," Herder says. "(Sometimes) even the Supreme Court issues an explanation as to what the 'intent' of the legislation may have been in its choice of wording."

So far the score on who supports Proposition B and those who oppose the upcoming ballot measure is, well, hard to keep track of. Faxes roll in daily with headlines like "Proposition B Is a License to Kill" or "Concealed-Carry Vote Would Cut Crime in Show-Me State."

At this point, those groups in favor of Prop B include Missourians Against Crime, Anheuser-Busch Companies, the Missouri Union of Law Enforcement, the Missouri Deputy Sheriffs Association, the St. Louis Police Officers Association, the Law Enforcement Alliance of America and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.

Those opposed include Citizens for Missouri's Children, the Safe Schools and Work Places Committee (with members representing the Missouri Sheriffs Association, the Missouri Highway Patrol, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and others), the Major League Baseball Players Association, the National Football League Players Association, the Kansas City Chiefs, Missourians Against Handgun Violence and the Ethical Society of Police.

-- Melinda Roth

OK to Carry Concealed Guns If You Have
*Knowingly damaged someone else's property valued at less than $750
*Rioted with force or violence
*Obstructed government operations through the use of violence or force
*Driven while intoxicated
*Accepted bribes as a sports official

Not OK to Carry Concealed Guns if You Have
*Knowingly damaged someone else's property valued at more than $750
*Checked out library books worth more than $150 with an expired library card
*Used someone else's food stamps
*Stolen cable-TV service
*Offered bribes to sports officials

 
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