BARBARA SHELLY

Shooting blanks at a trumped-up Missouri concealed carry records flap

Updated: 2013-05-11T23:42:07Z

By BARBARA SHELLY

The Kansas City Star

It’s a tough job, but today we will attempt to select the low-light of the great document-scanning “scandal” that the Missouri legislature has used as an excuse to avoid doing much real work this session.

Was it the “hearing” in North Kansas City, when a citizen worried that the sharing of the names of Missouri concealed gun permit holders with a federal agency would land her on a United Nations watch list? Cue the black helicopters.

How about the revelation that, after all the huffing from Republicans about the privacy of Missouri gun owners being invaded, someone from the Missouri House tried 23 times to break into a computer folder thought to contain the list of concealed gun permit holders? Republican House Speaker Tim Jones, who won’t identify the foiled hacker, describes the attempted break-in as “evidence gathering.”

Jones’ preposterous defense is hard to top. But Republican lawmakers who met to draft a final copy of the legislature’s proposed 2014 budget came close this week. Unable to let go of a make-believe scandal, they corrupted the budget in a way that could inconvenience and infuriate citizens.

This winding saga began when a citizen in Stoddard County went to renew his driver’s license and a clerk insisted on scanning his conceal carry permit.

Paranoia reared its head. Lawmakers dropped mundane matters like health care, finances and economic development bills and hauled state officials into hearings.

It turned out that the Department of Revenue, as part of a cost-saving move, has begun digitally scanning documents needed for a driver’s license, such as Social Security cards, birth certificates and concealed carry permits, and having the licenses processed by a private company. It was further discovered that the Missouri Highway Patrol had attempted to share the state’s concealed carry permit list with a federal fraud investigator.

The names of concealed carry owners are a closed record in Missouri. But state law makes an exception for state or federal law enforcement investigations. So the sharing was legal, although technical glitches ultimately stopped the investigator from accessing the list.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, tried to tamp down the fires by halting the scanning of concealed carry permits. But the opportunity to rile up gun owners is too rich for Republicans to pass up.

And so there have been hearings around the state. And more hearings in Jefferson City. Jones has announced the creation of a special commission to prolong the shelf life of the “scandal.”

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia who, like Jones, aspires to be the next state attorney general, is fixated on the document-sharing revelations. It was his idea to cut funding for the Department of Revenue’s motor vehicle division by a third, and a committee of budget writers went along with it.

Schaefer indicated the legislature would release the withheld funds in January, if the Nixon administration grovels sufficiently.

Not likely. Nixon speedily announced he would lay off employees and cut services to reflect the budget cuts. That could mean trouble getting titles and registrations for boats and ATVs, and slower printing and distribution of drivers licenses.

And for what? Keeping documents on file hurts no one. It should not be news that the federal government already knows the Social Security numbers of Missourians. Even concealed carry permits are public information in more than half the states. Curiously, many of the documents Missouri Republicans want kept under lock and key are the same ones they want people to produce in order to register to vote.

Have we identified a low-light? Yes. It is the willingness of Missouri Republicans to be sidetracked by a made-up political scandal, denying the state once again the serious legislative session it deserves.

To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to bshelly@kcstar.com. Follow her at Twitter.com/bshelly.

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