Judge blocks state’s new weapons law

The injunction already faces an appeal in the Mo. Supreme Court.
Sunday, November 9, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:21 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Local stakeholders expressed mixed reactions to a judge’s ruling on Friday that blocked Missouri’s concealed gun law.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer issued a permanent injunction against the conceal-and-carry law, saying it violates a provision of the Missouri Constitution that says the right to bear arms “shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons.” The ruling blocks a law passed by the Missouri General Assembly to override Gov. Bob Holden’s veto.

Attorney General Jay Nixon immediately appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.

In Boone County, Sheriff Ted Boehm emphasized the importance of Ohmer’s decision in the judicial process. “This is another step we need to take to determine if the law is constitutional,” he said.

Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm, never a fan of the law, praised the judge’s ruling. “As a law enforcement official, I’m pleased that it isn’t in effect,” he said.

Conceal-and-carry advocates, however, disagree with Ohmer.

“As any gun owner would be, I’m very disappointed,” Doug Grindstaff, operations manager at Target Masters, said. “It’s time wasted for the public.”

The ruling’s impact varies among law enforcement agencies and gun interests. Before

Ohmer issued a preliminary injunction last month — one day before the law was scheduled to take effect — sheriff’s departments across the state had been busy educating the public and preparing for an onslaught of applications for permits to carry hidden handguns.

For now, “everything is on standby” in Boone County, Ted Boehm said, “but we’re still prepared to accept applications.”

The Columbia Police Department is still preparing as if the law will take effect soon, Randy Boehm said. “We have a dialogue with the prosecuting attorney to understand what will and what will not be against the law,” he said. “We’re making sure our officers are properly educated.”

Certification classes at Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club in Hallsville have been on hold, John Skaggs said, so the injunction’s immediate effect is minimal there.

Grindstaff, however, said he eventually could suffer a loss of more than $70,000 if the injunction is not overturned: $7,000 from buying specialized handguns and around $65,000 in potential revenue from training fees.

Grindstaff and Skaggs are optimistic Ohmer’s ruling will be overturned by the supreme court.

Tim Oliver, who started his own conceal-and-carry Web site and established a business to certify people to carry hidden handguns, said he, too, is confident the high court will overturn the injunction. He argued that the words “shall not justify” in Article 1, Section 23, of the constitution don’t mean concealed guns are prohibited and noted that other states have passed similar laws despite similar constitutional language.

“If the courts listen to the precedent from other states, such as Colorado, I would hope the supreme court will rule in our favor,” Grindstaff said.

Skaggs believes the injunction is incorrect. “Eventually, conceal-and-carry will be upheld,” he predicted. “How far we have to go, I’m not sure.”

Ohmer initially granted a temporary injunction against the law on Oct. 10, saying the constitutional clause casts enough doubt on the law that it warranted review.

The law would allow Missourians 23 and older who pass a criminal background check and training courses to get a conceal-and-carry permit from their county for $100. It also would allow anyone at least 21 to hide a gun in their vehicle without a permit.

Missouri voters in 1999 turned down a ballot issue that would have authorized concealed guns. While most areas of the state supported the measure, it was overwhelmingly defeated in and around St. Louis and Kansas City.

Gov. Bob Holden recalled that vote when he described Ohmer’s ruling as “appropriate.”

“Today’s ruling will help protect the people of this state, who voted against conceal-and-carry in 1999,” Holden said Friday, noting the law would have allowed concealed guns in places such as schools, hospitals and day-care centers.

Nixon said he hopes the supreme court will “expedite this matter so we can have a full and final decision on this important public policy issue.”

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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