Money flows in gun law debate

Thursday, October 30, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:49 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 2, 2008

For some Missourians, the price of optimism is $125. For others, it runs as high as $100,000.

The cost depends on where one stands on the issue of concealed guns.

The law that would allow eligible applicants to carry hidden handguns was scheduled to take effect Oct. 11, but opponents filed a suit saying it conflicts with the Missouri Constitution. St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer, who issued a temporary injunction blocking the law, heard arguments last Thursday on whether the injunction should become permanent. He has set no date for his decision.

Meanwhile, many advocates of the law continue to take handgun training classes at an average cost of $125 per person. On the other side of the lawsuit are opponents of conceal-and-carry like Jeanne Kirkton of St. Louis. She put $100,000 of her own money toward a bond set by the judge in case anyone should claim financial harm from the injunction. The bond was set at $250,000.

“Whatever I can do to keep this from being forced upon us, I felt I had to do,” said Kirkton, a former legislative director of the Million Mom March.

People on both sides say they’re confident the judge will rule their way, and they’re pledging faith with their money.

“There’s a passion,” said Kansas City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. “This isn’t for show,” he said of contributors’ efforts.

Lyda Krewson’s passion for the issue led her to put a $75,000 mortgage on her house to help pay the bond.

“I’m of the belief that more guns on the street mean a less safe Missouri,” said Krewson, a St. Louis alderwoman who got involved in the issue after her husband was murdered in 1995. Krewson was active in fighting Proposition B, the conceal-and-carry measure voted down by Missourians in 1999.

Krewson said the plaintiffs hope to raise money to “spread the risk” in case the bond money is needed to pay damages.

“We feel very optimistic about this case,” she said. “However, I guarantee I cannot stand to lose $75,000.”

Kirkton, who has $100,000 at stake, said she is not too worried that defendants would be able to prove damages because of the lawsuit.

“As I understand it, it’s a high standard for this money to be lost,” Kirkton said.

But firearms trainers say they have lost money since the law was blocked, and they would like to collect on the plaintiffs’ bet.

Columbia firearms instructor Tim Oliver has continued offering classes, which cost $125 per person, throughout the legal battle. But with business declining, he and other instructors say it’s likely they will seek compensation for lost income.

“Since the hearing last week, business is down 90 or 95 percent,” Oliver said.

Oliver said he hasn’t estimated how much money he has lost from cancelled classes, but he said “the damages are mounting daily.”

“That may be the subject of future litigation,” Oliver said. “I’m not going to speculate on it.”

Doug Grindstaff of Target Masters in Columbia put it more bluntly.

“Everyone’s losing money,” he said. “That’s going to be a lawsuit that’s hanging over their heads.”

Grindstaff has postponed starting classes, although he said he still has more than 500 people on his waiting list. He plans to start classes in November, even if the legal contest goes on to the state Supreme Court.

Grindstaff said the money already posted won’t be enough if firearms trainers choose to fight it.

“It literally will be millions filed against those plaintiffs,” he said.

Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club in Hallsville is taking a different approach.

“We think we’re taking the high road on this,” said John Skaggs, director of range operations. He said he won’t offer classes until the law has been clarified.

“We don’t feel it would be appropriate to take someone’s money” without knowing whether conceal-and-carry permits would be a reality, Skaggs said.

Those who are already certified have nothing to do but wait.

Bob Moseley, who paid $250 for conceal-and-carry training for himself and his wife, said he’s confident his money won’t be wasted.

“I think eventually they’ll get this resolved and it’ll be in the right-to-carry’s favor,” said Moseley, who lives in California, Mo. “I’m content to set until it’s over, and then we’ll go on as planned.”

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