Getting a permit to carry a concealed firearm in Missouri is a pretty straightforward process.
Applicants have to complete a gun safety training class and pass a criminal background check performed by the local sheriff. With a clean record and no history of mental illness, a permit must be issued.
But a bill sitting on Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk would make that system moot for many Missourians by eliminating the requirement to get a permit to legally walk around in public with concealed guns. The penalty for carrying a firearm into buildings where it is not allowed would be reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The wide-ranging legislation, which was approved by Missouri lawmakers in the final hours of the 2016 legislative session, would also implement a so-called stand your ground law that says people no longer have a duty to try to retreat before using lethal force if they think their life is in danger.
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It would also expand the castle doctrine to permit invited guests in a home to use deadly force on intruders. And for those who still want to get a concealed-carry permit, the bill creates a lifetime version that never expires.
Nixon, a Democrat, has until mid-July to decide what to do with the bill, which passed both the Missouri House and Senate with large enough majorities to override a veto.
The legislation has drawn the scorn of gun-control advocates, who predict it will lead to more gun violence, especially in urban centers like Kansas City and St. Louis.
“This is a stupid, dangerous piece of legislation,” Rep. Lauren Arthur, a North Kansas City Democrat, said during debate on the bill.
To its proponents, the bill is about public safety.
“The reason people want to carry guns is because they can’t carry a police officer,” said state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, a Lewis County Republican.
Under current Missouri law, gun owners may legally “open carry” a weapon anywhere that does not expressly forbid the practice. Carrying a concealed weapon requires a permit.
Eliminating the permit requirement isn’t a huge change, said Kevin Jamison, an attorney from Gladstone and president of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance.
“The bill says a person can carry a weapon any place where a person with a (permit) can carry,” Jamison said. “Since 2004, it’s been legal for people with no training to carry a concealed weapon in their vehicles. So expanding this isn’t a major step.”
Most people who want to carry a firearm want to get training, Jamison said. But many don’t want to get a permit and end up on a government database.
“People will be able to carry concealed weapons without any formal training,” he said. “Is it a good thing? If you’re really paranoid about gun owners, I can see where you’ll be upset. But there is no reason for the paranoia.”
Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, a Democrat, vehemently disagrees.
“It will lead to more harm in my community, I’m certain of that,” she said. “If you look at the totality of what’s happened in this state, especially since the early 2000s, loosening our gun laws appears to be one of the biggest impacts on increasing violence.”
Gun-control advocates point to a study of Missouri gun laws by Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
In 2007, Missouri lawmakers repealed a requirement that any purchaser of a handgun, whether from a licensed or unlicensed dealer, obtain a permit from the local sheriff. Webster’s study concluded that change contributed to an increase in the state’s murder and suicide rates.
Over the years since, Missouri lawmakers have loosened gun restrictions even further, including passing bills to lower the age requirement to get a concealed carry permit to 19 and block local governments from limiting open carry.
Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat, fears allowing someone to carry a concealed weapon without any training, when coupled with a stand your ground law, will lead to an increase in violence.
“What we’re doing here is creating a situation where an untrained citizen can carry a concealed firearm,” he said during Senate debate on the bill. “Any other citizen who feels threatened by that citizen can shoot and kill them because they feel their life is in imminent danger.”
Each time Missouri lawmakers move to change gun laws, Jamison said, critics make the case that “there will be blood in the streets.”
Nine other states allow concealed carry without a permit. Kansas lawmakers approved permitless carry last year.
“There’s no blood on the streets in Kansas,” Jamison said.
Nixon hasn’t signaled whether he’ll sign or veto the legislation, saying only that he is “going to have to look at this and balance what I believe is right for Missourians’ right to bear arms with the other issues involved.”
Term limits will force Nixon out of office this year. And while he’s largely struck a moderate position on guns — signing some bills and vetoing others — it appears as though regardless of whether he’s replaced by a Republican or a Democrat, proponents of less stringent gun regulations will have a friend in the governor’s mansion next year.
All four Republican candidates for governor have expressed support for the provisions in the bill. And the presumptive Democratic nominee, Attorney General Chris Koster, told The Associated Press that “I haven’t heard anything that would cause me to think that the governor should veto it.”