Lobbyist works to sway lawmakers to give Missourians more firearm freedoms

Sunday, March 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:49 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Tim Oliver has spent 16 years in Jefferson City attempting to change the way that Missouri and its legislators view gun laws.

As a volunteer lobbyist and private investigator, Oliver’s efforts began in 1991, when he lobbied in favor of concealed carry, an issue that was becoming prevalent with gun-rights groups throughout the country. It was a career created more out of practicality than out of any deep-rooted desire to get into politics.

“When we started in 1991 to pass concealed carry law, there were a number of us throughout the state who had looked at Florida and said, ‘Florida did it, there hasn’t been blood in the streets, there haven’t been all those things, do you think we could do that here?’ Of those 12 or 15 people that were initially involved, I lived the closest to the Capitol,” Oliver said.

Concealed carry legislation was debated for nearly 15 years before finally, in 2004, it was approved by the Missouri legislature and ruled constitutional by the Missouri Supreme Court.

Oliver said that with the approval of concealed carry, he was “relieved, elated and tickled it was finally done.” But Oliver has continued to lobby for pro-gun legislation at the Capitol and this year, he turns his focus to another issue that originated in Florida.

Earlier in the year, four Republicans — two senators and two representatives — proposed legislation that would allow Missourians to use deadly force against household intruders. The legislation has been dubbed the “castle doctrine” by its supporters after the expression that one’s home is his or her castle.

House bill 189 & 60 , a bill that allows people to use deadly force in the event that someone trespasses on their property, passed the House by a vote of 134-4. A similar bill awaits a vote in the Senate.

Oliver said he believes that this is the year for the deadly force bill to be approved.

“We’ve campaigned (for) this idea of the ‘castle doctrine’ for the last three years,” Oliver said. “The first year, only one other state had passed it. The second year, seven other states had passed it. This year, 16 other states have passed it. Missouri’s never been on the leading edge of reform, but hopefully we’re sort of catching the wave.”

One state that frequently is on the leading edge of gun-rights legislation is Florida, which in 2005, passed and put into effect the first “castle doctrine” bill in the country.

Critics of these types of bills, such as Zach Ragbourn, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, have called the bill a “shoot first” bill and said it is unnecessary because there are no specific cases of people being prosecuted for defending their homes. He said supporters of the bill have erroneously claimed the language of “castle doctrine” because it associates the issue with larger self-defense issues that enjoys strong public support.

Ragbourn said the bill passage through state legislatures throughout the country is more an issue of making politicians look tough on crime than anything else.

“This bill is like steroids,” Ragbourn said. “It makes politicians look pretty good, but there are also some significant negative effects.”

Oliver sees the issue differently. Oliver said he believes the legislation is vital to preventing Missourians from being sued for defending themselves against an attacker and makes sure that there is no duty to retreat in instances of an attack. He cited a case in 1964 that he said he believes created an unfair burden of proof for Missouri citizens.

“If you had the Mongol hordes at your front door, and they’re crunching on your front door trying to get in, you can’t use deadly force to protect yourself or your home. At the point they make a hole in the door, you can’t use deadly force to protect yourself or your home. Only at the time they actually are crawling through the hole, can you use deadly force to protect yourself, your family or your home,” Oliver said.

Oliver is not just a gun lobbyist. He also teaches firearms courses for concealed carry permits, serves as a private investigator and is a defensive tactics training officer. Much of the legislation he lobbies for has come from years of personal experience.

Oliver’s time as a private investigator has led him to oppose a bill that would regulate the industry in the state. Oliver said that he believes the bill, proposed by Sen. Harry Kennedy, D-St. Louis, would sacrifice confidentiality between client and investigator and create unfair licensing fees.

Oliver also cited two other issues in the Capitol important to gun owners in the state. Concurrent bills that would restrict the state or local government from confiscating guns during a declared state of emergency have been proposed in the House and the Senate.

Oliver said that the confiscation of guns following Hurricane Katrina have prompted gun-rights groups across the country to attempt to prevent similar occurrences in their states.

The final major reform that Oliver hopes to see in Missouri is abolishing local “permit to acquire” statutes in Missouri.

“Anybody who wants to acquire a concealable handgun has to pay $10 and get a permission slip from their sheriff,” Oliver said. “This is a leftover from the Civil Rights era to keep blacks and other minorities from being able to purchase handguns. We’re hoping to get rid of this last vestige of Jim Crow in this session.”

Oliver said the aim of the grass-roots gun lobby in the state is twofold: hoping to “preserve gun rights and re-establish gun rights we have lost.”

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