GUEST COMMENTARY: Proposed gun amendment seriously endangers public safety

Friday, August 1, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:33 a.m. CDT, Friday, August 1, 2014

On August 5th, Amendment 5, the so called “Right to Bear Arms” amendment will be on the ballot. I am opposed to this measure because it is completely unnecessary to ensure the right of law abiding citizens to possess firearms, and if it passes, safety of citizens in Boone County and across Missouri will be severely jeopardized.

At the outset let me make one thing absolutely clear: I believe in the right of law abiding citizens to possess firearms. But even though I support such right, I am adamantly opposed to Amendment 5.

This amendment is unnecessary because the right to possess firearms is constitutionally protected under both the United States Constitution and the Missouri Constitution. Article 1, Section 23 of Missouri’s Bill of Rights (which Amendment 5 seeks to change) states that “the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms…shall not be questioned”. Amendment 5, however, would make rights related to possession of firearms “unalienable” and any laws restricting those rights would be subject to “strict scrutiny”. Further, it would mandate that “the state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and shall under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement.” What this likely means is that if Amendment 5 passes, reasonable laws that are currently in place which protect the public will be wiped off the books.

For example, it is illegal under Missouri law for convicted felons to possess firearms. This “felon in possession” law is reasonable because convicted felons are often dangerous people. If Amendment 5 passes, people convicted of serious felonies, including career criminals with multiple felony convictions, who cannot currently possess firearms will be able to do so under the laws of this state. Proponents of Amendment 5 argue that this is nothing to be concerned about because their proposed amendment states, “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the general assembly from enacting general laws which limit the rights of convicted violent felons”. This is problematic because Missouri law contains no definition of “violent felons”. Therefore, if Amendment 5 passes, it is likely that people who have been convicted of felonies such as unlawful use of a weapon, robbery in the second degree, assault in the second degree, burglary in the first degree, victim tampering, endangering the welfare of a child in the first degree, promoting child pornography, drug distribution, and motor vehicle theft will not be classified as “violent felons” and such offenders will be able to legally possess firearms under Missouri law.

Another alarming aspect of Amendment 5 pertains to carrying concealed firearms. Currently, under Missouri law in order to carry concealed firearms a citizen must first obtain a permit which requires an applicant to complete an 8 hour safety class and to complete some paperwork. Convicted felons presently cannot obtain a “conceal carry” permit. Further, even those with “conceal carry” permits cannot carry firearms into places such as schools, child care facilities, places of worship, larger sports arenas and stadiums, hospitals, and polling places. In addition, private property owners are currently free to decide whether or not patrons can have concealed guns on their premises. Because Amendment 5 proposes to make the right to possess firearms “unalienable” and subject to “strict scrutiny” and deletes the current language that states “this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons”, if it passes reasonable laws relating to carrying concealed firearms will almost certainly be struck down. Consequently, under the laws of our state people who have been convicted of multiple serious felonies will likely not only be able to possess firearms, they will also be able to carry them concealed, almost anywhere they choose.

Violent crimes involving firearms are a significant problem in Boone County. Such cases can be difficult to prosecute because witnesses sometimes do not participate in the criminal justice system. This is an age old problem and it is pervasive across the entire country. However, law enforcement officers in Boone County arrest felons who are illegally in possession of firearms under our "felon in possession" law. These "felon in possession” cases are often successfully prosecuted since law enforcement officers who seize the firearms are the essential witnesses instead of individuals who may not participate. Many of these people arrested for “felon in possession” are gang members, drug dealers or habitual criminals who have committed other dangerous crimes which may remain unsolved due to lack of witness participation.

Currently, here in Boone County my office is prosecuting many “felon in possession” cases and we are, accordingly, often able to take trouble making criminals off our streets by utilizing this particular law. If Amendment 5 passes we will likely lose this very important law enforcement tool and as a result, the safety of this community and of our law enforcement officers who frequently interact with dangerous criminals will be substantially compromised.

If Amendment 5 passes criminals will benefit and law abiding citizens will suffer. Our community will be less safe. Please vote “no” on Amendment 5.

Dan Knight is the Boone County prosecutor.

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Eric Cox August 1, 2014 | 1:50 p.m.

Although once you're convicted of a felony it seems you lose quite a few "inalienable" rights, such as the right to vote or possess firearms, regardless of the nature of the actual crime. Why should a person convicted of a non-violent victimless crime lose the right of self-preservation, or even the right to be represented in the government? They certainly aren't free from taxation. Maybe if 1 out of 100 Americans were not in prison, you could convince me of the danger, but I fail to conceded that 1 out of every 100 people are inherently dangerous.

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