JEFFERSON CITY — Does the right "to keep and bear arms" come at a cost?
It was included in the U.S. Constitution, arguably at the price of thousands of Americans' lives during the Revolutionary War.
Later this summer, Missouri voters will decide whether to enhance the right to bear arms in the state constitution — a proposal that the official summary cautions could come at a "significant" financial cost.
Although no specific, direct monetary figures are cited in the ballot wording approved by Missouri Auditor Tom Schweich, it says the passage of the measure "will likely lead to increased litigation and criminal justice related costs." That's based on an assumption that the amendment would give people new grounds to challenge Missouri's criminal laws and local ordinances restricting guns.
Louisiana adopted a similar measure two years ago, and since then, numerous legal challenges already have been filed against gun laws.
State Sen. Kurt Schaefer, the sponsor of the Missouri ballot measure, said he doubts it will lead to large costs. But he acknowledged that the amendment — if approved Aug. 5— could have repercussions for the state treasury.
"There may be some times when the right is infringed by the federal government or by someone else, where it is incumbent on the state to step forward," said Schaefer, a Columbia Republican who is running for attorney general in 2016. "Will there be a cost with that? Absolutely. Is that cost worth it to uphold that right that Missourians have? Absolutely."
The Missouri Constitution already states: "That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property ... shall not be questioned."
The ballot proposal would expand that to cover ammunition and firearms accessories, state that gun rights are "unalienable" and require strict legal scrutiny for any gun rights restrictions.
Among other things, the proposed amendment says: "The state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and shall under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement." That language is cited as one reason for the significant cost projections.
Schweich, a Republican, prepared his financial summary based on information submitted by Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon's administration, Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster and opponents of the ballot measure. Supporters submitted no information for Schweich to consider.
Koster's office said "significant litigation may ensue" if the amendment requires his office to sue on behalf of individuals. Nixon's Office of Administration warned of "increased costs" to the state's legal expense fund. And the state public defender's office said the measure "will likely lead to legal challenges to various gun laws" by criminal defendants.
That's what has happened in Louisiana, where voters overwhelmingly adopted a constitutional amendment in 2012 declaring that the right to bear arms "is fundamental" and subjecting any gun-rights restrictions to "strict scrutiny."
The Louisiana Supreme Court already has heard four challenges to state gun laws, and the attorney general's office has aided district attorneys in defending against roughly 200 legal challenges to criminal laws, according to attorney general spokeswoman Laura Gerdes Colligan. The office had no specific cost estimate.
While preparing Missouri's cost projection, the auditor's office received a detailed analysis from former state budget official Mark Reading. His work was financed by Everytown for Gun Safety, a new national gun-control group that received $50 million from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Reading projected the proposal could cost state and local governments $244 million, including $115 million for additional security at state-owned buildings and $54 million for school police officers to protect people from an assumed increase in gun violence. He also projected a $71 million loss in state and local tax revenues if tourists boycott Missouri because of its pro-gun constitution.
Deputy State Auditor Harry Otto said Reading's figures were dismissed as "ridiculous," but comments from state officials about the potential for increased litigation were taken seriously.
Kansas City officials also made dire predictions. They said the constitutional amendment likely would invalidate local firearms ordinances, resulting in an "increase in violence and mayhem" that would require more money for police, courts and neighborhood programs.
A ballot summary citing significant costs can sometimes cause voters to say "no." But Schaefer said he doesn't expect it to doom the gun-rights amendment.
"The fiscal note puts people on notice, if they want to look at that to say, 'Here's what may happen,'" Schaefer said. But "I do not believe this will have a huge cost on the state of Missouri."