Love the Gun You're With

Meet one of the minds behind concealed-carry

Concealed-carry proponent Greg Jeffery fondly recalls the first time he went hunting, back in 1986: He traveled to Audrain County, just north of Columbia, with a friend from college and bagged a seven-point buck -- with an AK-47.

Unable to believe this self-described city slicker had scored with such an unorthodox hunting method, his friend's dad brought out a dozen diners from a nearby eatery to admire the deer while Jeffery waited to check it with the conservation agent next door. "What, did you just run into the woods, blindly spraying shots?" one of the disbelievers asked.

Nope. Two shots. Dead. "The shot was pure skill," boasts Jeffery, a firing range regular. "But having the deer being where he was at the right time may have been a little more luck."

"You're limited to five rounds, and there were no five-round magazines at the time so you had to physically put a block in the chamber that limits you to five rounds," the mop-headed, mustached gun activist recounts, adding that he wouldn't have traded his ballistically equivalent AK for a deer-hunting rifle even if one had been available.

To Jeffery, legislative chairman for the Gateway Civil Liberties Alliance, legislative coordinator for Missourians for Personal Safety and sometime spokesman for the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance, the deer-hunting anecdote dispels a common fallacy espoused by the anti-gun crowd: that only guns that are traditionally used for hunting can be, well, used for hunting.

The 44-year-old Jeffery, who lives with his wife and two young kids in north St. Louis County and toils by day as a mechanical engineer, estimates that he has invested more than $100,000 of his own money in the gun movement since becoming active in the early 1990s. Missouri's concealed-weapons law, which would allow most Missouri residents over 23 who clear a background check and undergo specified training requirements to carry a concealed firearm, was passed by the state legislature this past fall over a veto by Governor Bob Holden. A St. Louis circuit court judge ruled the law unconstitutional and the bill is now in limbo, with the state supreme court scheduled to take up the matter in January.

In defending the bill before the supreme court, the biggest obstacle facing Attorney General Jay Nixon's legal team would seem to be an 1875 revision to the state constitution asserting "[t]hat the right of no citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power, when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question; but nothing herein contained is intended to justify the practice of wearing concealed weapons."

Jeffery maintains that the clause was inspired after the Civil War by former slave owners who feared that their recently emancipated slaves would come after them seeking revenge.

In 1999 Jeffery published a guide called "Licensed to Carry," comparing the laws among the 30 states that had concealed-carry laws at the time (the number has since risen to 35). In the months leading up to the 2003 legislative session, he was one of a small handful of private citizens who worked closely with one of the concealed-carry bill's primary sponsors, Representative Larry Crawford, who represents four counties northwest of Jefferson City. Jeffery helped to fine-tune legislation based largely on the previous year's bill -- which he'd helped write. This year's effort, Jeffery says, focused on composing a bill that would be palatable to a wide political spectrum and one that would appeal to law-enforcement organizations. "Not a single police group in the state came out against it," he notes.

Crawford is effusive in his praise of Jeffery's work. "He's been very valuable to the legislature; he's worked with both parties. He's one of the most knowledgeable persons on the concealed-carry issues in the state. There's a lot of people that have some rhetoric about it, but he's actually done research. He's a detail person. He has a good legal mind. Most people think he's an attorney."

John Ross, a pro-gun activist and a Democrat who ran against Jim Talent for a Congressional seat in 1998, says Jeffery's unemotional, reasoned approach is his greatest asset.

"I think he's very logical, very methodical and calm when other people might not be," says Ross. "He's been very good at presenting the issue correctly, without emotion and without hyperbole."

Which is not to say that Jeffery is always understated. Hyperbole often creeps into his rhetoric when he appears on panels or speaks on TV and radio. He recently spoke to Washington University's 'On Target' gun group, on a panel with Olin Business School lecturer Michael Gordinier. Describing how he responds to opponents of the gun legislation, Jeffery said, "I respect your right to not defend yourself and have your wife raped and your children murdered." Attendees at the discussion also received a photocopied diatribe entitled "Psychiatric Study Identifies the Real Crazies," penned by Gordinier, who writes:

"[T]he average anti-gun person is literally terrified of the world in which they live. They are terrified of their neighbors...terrified of their own angry terrified, in fact, that they feel that if THEY had access to a firearm in a moment of stress, THEY might act irresponsibly and shoot someone."

As the concealed-carry showdown nears, Jeffery has been helping to organize fundraisers to support the bill's legal defense team; up next is a series of "fun shoots" at local ranges.

Though four of the sitting supreme court judges were appointed by anti-gun governors Holden and Mel Carnahan and three by pro-gun John Ashcroft, Jeffery puts his side's odds at a little better than 50-50.

"If you look at who appointed the judges, it would seem that the odds would be against us. But once they're there, they have to make sure that their own human paradigms and prejudices don't get in the way against the rule of the law," he reasons, adding that the Post-Dispatch's anti-gun editorial page has deemed the bill constitutional.

Still, Jeffery has seen license-to-carry bills go down before. If this one doesn't pass muster, he says, "Then it's on to Plans B, C and D."

And if those should fail, he's undoubtedly armed with plans corresponding to the rest of the alphabet.