But What About Knives?

Proposition B quirk shows that it's for guns, not safety

Mar 31, 1999 at 4:00 am
If Proposition B passes next Tuesday, you could still get arrested as a felon for attempting to protect yourself by carrying a concealed "knife, blackjack or any other weapon readily capable of lethal use."

Other than a gun, of course.
That's right. The same prohibitions that now exist against carrying any concealed weapon in Missouri would still exist against carrying any concealed weapon other than a gun.

If someone -- say one of the frightened young women depicted in Proposition B ads -- had a knife or club hidden in her purse, she would be guilty of a felony (punishable by a prison term) if she got caught with it. But the same woman could carry a loaded .357 Magnum into Busch Stadium -- even if there were signs expressly prohibiting guns there -- and at worst she would be cited for an "infraction of trespass" that wouldn't result in even the loss of her concealed-gun permit, much less a criminal charge.

This is a bit puzzling.
Just last week, NRA President Charlton "Moses" Heston came down from the mountaintop to tell us "the most profound consequence" of Proposition B is that it creates "a climate of uncertainty for criminal predators. The risk that a potential victim could be armed drastically raises the stakes for criminals and makes many of them quit the game entirely.

"It's just too risky."
Now that makes good sense, especially with regard to the criminal who conducts a careful cost-benefit analysis -- complete with a review of state-by-state gun laws -- before determining to approach you with a request for "your money or your life." But it also begs a question, in this harrowing era of criminals running rampant because they know that decent, law-abiding folk are unarmed and defenseless:

Why would we do anything to inhibit the good guy's right to self-defense? Why would we have any law limiting a citizen's self-protection?

Say someone can't afford a gun, or even the whopping $80 permit fee that Proposition B supporters contend will help assure that only good folk are packing concealed heat. Don't we want the bad guys to know that even these penniless "potential victims" might be holding a switchblade or a club or some other means of "raising the stakes for criminals"?

Why didn't the Proposition B authors simply eliminate the section of RsMo. 571.030 that makes concealing a weapon a crime? Why did they merely carve out an exception for guns?

I asked pro-gun "Missourians Against Crime" spokesman Brett Feinstein Monday about why, if safety was such a pressing concern, concerned citizens shouldn't be able to defend themselves with, say, a knife. After noting that the question hadn't been raised before, he checked with someone and confirmed that it was indeed intentional that other weapons were excluded from the new protections of Proposition B.

"I'm told there are two specific reasons," he said. "One is the issue of registration, because with so many different kinds of knives, there would be no way to keep track of them all. And there's the safety issue. A firearm is a much more effective means of self-protection if someone's coming toward you, because you can use it when there's space between you."

The first half of that answer is pretty funny, given the National Rifle Association's constant opposition to gun-registration laws of any kind. As to the second part, I suspect someone well trained in the use of a knife or a nightstick can do a pretty fair job of self-defense without spraying bullets around at innocent bystanders.

Still, I was relieved to hear that the NRA and its legislative associates had thought this thing through. It was good news that this wasn't an oversight, because my real fear in asking the question was that the response would be, "Hey, commie-pinko, you've finally got a great idea. Why, we'll do Proposition K for knives next, and then maybe get to legalizing concealed hand grenades in 2001."

Personally, as a resident of Missouri, where FBI numbers show the violent crime rate has dropped faster than the national average without the benefit of "concealed carry" (and more than twice as fast as states that have it), I say we don't need people running around stadiums and bars and banks and daycare centers and everywhere else with hidden switchblades and clubs -- not any more than we need them running around with concealed firearms.

But Proposition B backers don't see it that way, so it was especially enlightening to see them assert that Missourians can't be trusted to choose their weapon of self-defense. That, more than anything else, offers proof positive as to what Proposition B is really all about.

Proposition B is all about guns.
This is a critical point, because the NRA has gone to great lengths to make this what it isn't -- a "safety" issue or a "constitutional-rights" issue or a "crime-fighting" issue -- and hide what it truly is, which is one massive investment in promoting the sale and distribution of more guns and ammunition. And it's an investment that just happens to have been fired up by the gun industry.

If there were a National Knife Association or a National Billy-club Association, with one of the strongest political lobbies in the country -- and millions in a war chest targeted at little ol' Missouri -- do you suppose Proposition B would be only about guns?

Not a chance.
So this isn't complicated: If you think more guns in circulation will mean less crime, vote for Proposition B. On the other hand, if -- like the large majority of law-enforcement officials -- you think that reducing the armaments on the streets of America is a better strategy for combating violence, then most definitely vote against the measure.

This isn't about tow-truck operators and frightened sisters and wives defending themselves from calculating criminals. If that's your concern, go buy a couple of six-shooters and strap them on like in the Wild West or, better yet, have your pistol lying on the dashboard of your car, in full view of the bad guys.

All that's perfectly legal right now in Missouri, as long as the weapons are not concealed. Just like it's perfectly legal to keep as many guns as you want for self-protection in your home. (With Heston's logic, no home would ever be broken into by criminals for fear of encountering gun owners.)

But this isn't good enough for the NRA, because it realizes that the public would react angrily to seeing more and more weaponry on the streets. Concealed carry, marketed cleverly as a means of law-abiding citizens fighting back against crime, taps into the public's fears and emotions.

And the gun-buyers' pocketbooks.
Don't trust me on this one, though. Go to the pro-Proposition B Web site, www.moccw.org, and see how they're trumpeting this supposed personal-safety issue to their own pro-gun membership, right at the top of the page:

"In 6 days, Missourians will cast the most important firearms vote of the century!"

And nothing more.