Gov. Jay Nixon and the Republican-dominated Missouri General Assembly are on an election-year collision course over the issue of guns.
Nixon, a Democrat who is prohibited from seeking a third term as governor this fall because of term limits, vetoed a wide-ranging gun bill Monday that would eliminate the requirement to get a permit to legally walk around in public with a concealed gun. The penalty for carrying a firearm into buildings where it is not allowed would have been reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor.
The bill also would have established a “stand your ground” law, which says people no longer have a duty to try to retreat before using lethal force if they think their life is in danger. It would have expanded 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.
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In a letter explaining his veto to lawmakers, Nixon zeroed in on the permit process.
“I cannot support the extreme step of ... eliminating sensible protections like background checks and training requirements,” Nixon said, “and taking away the ability of sheriffs to protect their communities.”
The legislation was approved by state lawmakers on the final day of the 2016 legislative session, a move that came as a surprise to many observers who thought Republicans had given up on the issue.
Resurrecting the bill on the session’s final day was seen as a direct response to a defeat that Senate Republicans suffered hours before the gun vote, when they failed to muster enough support to pass tough new regulations on public employee unions.
The gun bill cleared the House 114-36, five votes more than the two-thirds needed to override a veto. In the Senate, where 23 votes are needed to override a veto, it passed on a 24-8 party-line vote.
Lawmakers will return to the Missouri Capitol on Sept. 14 to consider whether to override any of Nixon’s vetoes.
Sen. Will Kraus, a Lee’s Summit Republican running for secretary of state, panned Nixon’s veto, saying the bill was designed to allow people to “legally protect themselves and their families.”
“I am disappointed Governor Nixon vetoed this bill aimed at preserving our Second Amendment rights,” he said in a statement, “but I am hopeful the legislature will be able to override this decision in September.”
Sen. Brian Munzlinger, a Lewis County Republican who sponsored the legislation, invoked recent mass shootings in criticizing Nixon’s veto.
“In an era when we see radical Islamic terrorists shifting their focus to attacks on targets such as employee Christmas parties in San Bernardino or nightclubs in Orlando, we should be doing all we can to make sure the citizens of Missouri have the ability to protect themselves,” Munzlinger said in a statement.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, said he expects the House to have the votes needed to override.
“This is why the people of Missouri elected a super-majority of conservative supporters of the 2nd amendment to the House and the Senate,” he said in a statement.
Nixon said the legislation would make Missourians less safe by allowing individuals “to legally carry a concealed firearm even though they have been or would be denied a permit because their background check revealed criminal offenses or caused the sheriff to believe they posed a danger.”
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.
To get a permit to carry a concealed firearm in Missouri, a person must 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.
The bill vetoed Monday would allow someone to carry a concealed firearm without going through any of that process.
“I cannot support a system that would ignore a determination by the chief law enforcement officer of a county that an individual is a danger to the community and should not be authorized to carry a concealed firearm,” Nixon said.
Springfield Police Chief Paul Williams, the president of the Police Chiefs Association, said the bill has the potential to “decrease the safety of citizens and police officers alike.”
Nixon won praise from Kansas City Mayor Sly James, a Democrat who had called for a veto, along with Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté and Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker.
“Law enforcement and I agreed that this legislation would make city streets more dangerous and law enforcement more difficult and uncertain,” James said in a statement.
Nixon never mentioned the other provisions in the legislation in his veto letter, despite the fact that his fellow Democrats in the Missouri Senate keyed in on the stand your ground provision in opposing the bill.
Stand your ground laws gained national attention in 2012 when George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida, fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. Martin was wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of Skittles. Zimmerman said he shot and killed the teen because he feared great bodily harm or death, and he was ultimately acquitted by a jury.
A study by researchers at Texas A&M University found “significant evidence that (stand your ground) laws lead to more homicides.” Homicide rates in states with stand your ground laws increased around 8 percent, the study found.
The bill in question is Senate Bill 656.