JEFFERSON CITY — Republican lawmakers' concerns about new driver's license procedures are being exacerbated by the state's unique system for marking concealed weapons endorsements.
Missouri appears to be the only state whose license bureaus also issue concealed weapons endorsements in conjunction with driver's licenses. In Missouri the endorsements are doled out by the sheriff's office but the permits are printed by the Department of Revenue.
Permit holders can choose whether they want to have the endorsement printed on their driver's license or on a separate non-driving identification card. Of the roughly 178,000 concealed weapon permit holders, 174,450 Missourians choose to have the endorsement printed on a non-driver's card, according to figures from the Revenue Department. But those cards are still processed at the license bureaus by the Revenue Department.
Now that the department is scanning and retaining applicants' personal documents, including concealed weapons endorsements, Republicans and gun rights advocates are concerned the information could be shared with the federal government.
"This is such a gigantic violation of our privacy rights, it is just very scary," said Tim Oliver, a concealed weapons course instructor in Columbia.
Revenue Department spokesman Ted Farnen said concealed weapons permits and other documents are "scanned to protect the integrity and security of state-issued photo IDs."
Kevin Jamison, a board member of the Western Missouri Shooter's Alliance and a Kansas City attorney, said he knows of no other state that uses driver's licenses to mark concealed weapons permits. A review of handgunlaw.us, a website tracking gun legislation, shows that Missouri's system for issuing permits is different from other states.
Most other states have local sheriffs or police departments issue and process the permits directly. Kansas used to issue weapons permits on driver's licenses but since 2009 the state requires sheriffs to issue separate cards. Some states don't require permits to carry concealed weapons. In Alaska, any person over the age of 21 who legally owns a firearm can carry it without a permit or license.
Gary Slider, who helps run handgunlaw.us, said some states tie permits to driver's licenses, but it only shows when the license is run for a check. A few states also have permits tied to vehicle registration and license plate numbers so law enforcement can identify a concealed weapons holder.
When Missouri passed its concealed weapons law in 2003, lawmakers wanted to put the weapons endorsement on the driver's license to help law enforcement identify if someone was carrying a concealed weapon. But the Republican-controlled Legislature was also looking for a way to reduce the program's costs.
Local license office bureaus already had the equipment for printing concealed weapons licenses, so lawmakers decided to add a weapons endorsement indicator to driver's licenses.
When Missouri began mailing its new driver's licenses in December, the concealed weapons endorsements were printed on them as in the old system. But the weapons permits are now scanned and kept in a database. Before, office clerks looked at and verified the document at the bureau.
"People who have a license to carry are generally very private about it. The whole idea is to be discrete," Jamison said.
Because Missouri's concealed weapons permits are linked to the agency in charge of issuing licenses, the state's implementation of federal standards for verifying identity has become even more controversial. The federal Real ID act requires states to adopt tough requirements for ensuring a person's identity, but a 2009 state law prohibits the Missouri Revenue Department from adopting policies to implement those standards.
Retaining a database of scanned documents is a Real ID requirement. Because of the state's concealed weapons procedure, that database also includes information from concealed weapon permit holders.
During a Senate hearing on the new license process, Revenue Department Director Brian Long refused to commit to stop scanning concealed weapons permits, because the scanned documents provide protection against fraud.
As the controversy escalated, lawmakers advanced legislation stripping concealed weapons endorsements from driver's licenses and having sheriffs issue the permits directly. The Senate gave first-round approval to that measure last week. The provision was added to a bill that would prevent the Revenue Department from scanning any personal documents and would require information already collected to be destroyed.